Blues Then and Now - The History of the Blues (Chapter 9, page 1 of 4)


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Chapter 9

Huddle Ledbetter, better- known as Leadbelly. Why that nickname name? No one knows for sure. But what is certain is that he was the first country blues artist to be accepted by the white public. His variety of music included work songs, cowboy songs, blues, spirituals, songs about life in prison on which he had first hand experience, folk songs and the current ballads of the day. He has been singing and playing his twelve-string guitar on street corners and in bars throughout Dallas, Texas, since he was 15 years old.

Leadbelly was musically versatile being able to play in addition to his guitar, the piano, accordion and the harmonica as well. When he was 16 years old, he took off for Shreveport, Louisiana where he got a job playing piano in one of the main brothels in town. In his late teens, Huddie had a reputation as being a short tempered, heavy drinker, a womanizer and always in the center of any violence In Dallas around 1950, he came in contact with Blind Lemon Jefferson in a saloon where Jefferson was performing. They became good friends and Leadbelly acted as his guide. But it was Huddie's nature to be in trouble. Trouble followed him every where he went. For a number of crimes, violence arid assaults he put in many years on the chain gang, and in prisons in Texas and Louisiana.

In 1917, Leadbelly killed a man over a woman. For this he got 30 years of hard labor on a Texas prison farm. After serving only 8 years he was given a pardon by the Governor of Texas. His freedom didn't last long. In 1930, he was again sentenced to hard labor at the Angola State Penitentiary in Louisiana for assault with intent to kill a white man. He was pardoned a second time with the help of John A. Lomax, a recording representative for the Library of Congress. Leadbelly recorded "Match Box Blues," "If I Wasn't For Dicky," "Honey, I'm All Out and Down" and "Becky Deem, She was a Garnblin' Gal." On December 6, 1949, Leadbelly died of the Lou Gehrig's disease (Arterial Lateral Sclerosis) in New York. He was 64 years old.

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