Black girl, Black girl
don't lie to me
Tell me where do you sleep last night?
-"In The Pines",Ledbelly
Leadbelly was born Huddie Ledbetter, most people place his birthdate as January 21 1885, however, there is some confusion over whether this is accurate. His early history is shrouded in mystery, howeer it is known that around 1918 in Texas, he supposedly killed a man in self-defense. Unable to get a fair trial, he wrote a song to the govenor which brought about his pardon shortly before he served his minimum sentence of 7 years (he got 7-35). A second similar indcedent found him in jail again, this time in Louisiana on attempted murder charges. Again he performed for the govenor, however his release this time was not related to his performance, but merely to normal 'time-served' laws, contrary to popular belief. The sad truth is, it was his reputation as a sining murderer, not his incredible musical talent, that formed the bulk of his success in his own day. The media painted him as an animal on display wherever he went, much to the dismay of the lomaxes, with whom he was often on tour. They were his constant touring companions and friends, and they knew the true circumstances around his 'criminal past' and respected him for the amazing singer/songwriter/guitarist he was.
Leadbelly himself did not play down the image of himself as a criminal, often playing himself off like a characature in a minstrel, he saw this sad state of affairs as a necessarry evil for him to make good money. However, in reality leadbelly had a profound influence on blues kings like Waters and King all the way to Clapton and the stones and on down to being identified as a powerful, motivating force behind the alternative greats of the 90s such as Kurt Cobain. Leadbelly died in 1949, he never himself recieved in life the kind of recognition for his talent that he did after his death. Sadder still that he had to hide his genius behind a mask of ignorance just to make money. He is remembered as one of the grandfathers of rock n' roll in the Hall of Fame, alongside Robert Johnson and others.
For more information on Leadbelly's life and contribution to music here are some great links:
The Ledbelly Legend