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Great Americans Week: Lead Belly

For July 4th week, The Daily Music Break will present five musicians or bands that are deeply American. First up is Lead Belly, whose given name was Huddie Ledbetter. It often is written as Leadbelly, but Wikipedia says that he wrote it as two words. The legendary performer, whose bio included incarceration for murder, is one of the most influential musicians in American history and deeply responsible for the folk revival.

Lead Belly. Photo: Dr Richard S. Blacher
There aren’t too many color shots of Lead Belly. The photo is credited to Dr Richard S. Blacher.

This video was edited by Pete Seeger and released in 1945. The three songs I can identify are the familiar “Pick a Bale of Cotton,” “Gray Goose” and “Take This Hammer.” The song at the beginning, according to one comment on YouTube, is a version of “Black Girl”/”Where Did You Sleep Last Night” without the lyrics. The opening shots are at of Shilo Baptist Church in Mooringsport, Louisiana, near where Lead Bell was born.

The headline at YouTube says that this is the only video of Lead Belly. That, thankfully, is far from true. It’s a great one, though. The Daily Music Break has covered Lead Belly several times before: Check out posts here, here and here. Grandiose or overly sweeping statements generally are silly to make. It is, however, fair to say that it’s impossible to really understand American music without paying attention to Huddie Ledbetter.


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