This is a new edition of Lead Belly: A Life in Pictures, the rich visual biography of legendary American folk musician Lead Belly, originally published by Steidl in 2007. Here is a treasure trove of rare photographs, news clippings, concert programs, personal correspondence (including letters from Woody Guthrie), record albums, awards and other memorabilia, some of which was discovered in a basement trunk in Brooklyn, safely stored by Lead Belly’s wife Martha—“My wife is half my life; my guitar is the other half,” he once said.
Born Huddie William Ledbetter (1889–1949), Lead Belly was an influential Louisiana bluesman who wrote and performed some of the best-loved songs of the twentieth century, including “The Midnight Special,” “Cotton Fields,” “Rock Island Line,” “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” and his signature “Goodnight, Irene.” Notable for his strong vocals and virtuosity on the twelve-string guitar, he could also play the piano, mandolin, harmonica, violin, concertina and accordion. In 1934 Library of Congress folk music anthropologist John A. Lomax discovered Lead Belly serving time for assault in the infamous Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. Lomax, traveling through the South in search of American folk songs, immediately recognized Lead Belly as a walking anthology of African-American music and arranged for him to come to New York, where he soon created a sensation. Lead Belly’s ongoing legacy is significant: Bob Dylan cited him as his earliest influence in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 2016 while other musicians shaped by him include Van Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Keith Richards, Jimi Hendrix, Robert Plant, Dan Zanes, Bonnie Raitt and Beck.
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