Lead belly publicity shot

Lead Belly

  • Lead Belly is Born

    Lead Belly is Born
    Born Huddie (Hudy) William Ledbetter. There is a bit of confusion as to the date of his birth since his grave marker says he was born in 1889, but mulitple U.S. census reports have him born in 1888. They believe he accidentaly (or on purpose) filled in 1889 on his 1942 draft papers which leads to the confusion.
  • He Finds His Style

    He Finds His Style
    By 1903, Lead Belly was performing regularily in St. Paul's Bottoms in the red-light district of Shreveport. Here he developed his own style of music by taking inspiration from different forms of music that surrounded him in brothels, saloons, and dance halls.
  • Blind Lemon Jefferson Hears Him

    Blind Lemon Jefferson Hears Him
    He played with BLJ, in particular performing on his soon to be infamous and perfered 12 string guitar. He performed his song "The Titanic" which is about teh athlete Jack Johnson being refused admittance on a ship because of his skin color.
  • His First Jailhouse Rock

    His First Jailhouse Rock
    This is the first of a few stints in jail for Leadbelly. He was known to be violient and volitile. This arrest was made because Lead Belly was convicted of carrying a pistol. He was sent to a chain-gang of which he later escaped. He lived in a nearby county for a few years under the name Walter Boyd.
  • Second Times a Charm

    Second Times a Charm
    Lead Belly is back in jail for killing his relative over a quarrel about a girl. It is suspected that it is during this incarciration that Lead Belly learned "Midnight Special". He served the bare minimum of his 7-35 year sentence and was pardoned by the governor after sending his a song in which he appealled to the governor's religious beliefs to ask his his freedom.
  • Bad Things Come in Threes

    Bad Things Come in Threes
    Once again Lead Belly is incarcirated for attempted homicide when he stabbed a white man during a fight. But during this incarciration Leadbelly was discovered by folksingers Jon Lomax and Alan Lomax. They loved his tenor and the fact that he new many songs and recorded him during this visit on quick portable aluminum tracks.
  • Lomax Comes Back

    Lomax Comes Back
    The Lomax's came back with better recording set in 1934 and recorded hundreds of Lead Belly's songs from his repetoire.
  • Lomax Takes on a Driver

    Lomax Takes on a Driver
    The United States was deep in the Great Depression and Lead Belly needed a steady job in order to avoid having his release canceled, John A. Lomax took took him on as a driver for three months. Together they toured the South collecting folk songs.
  • Lead Belly's Big Break

    Lead Belly's Big Break
    Lead Belly took part in a group sing at an MLA meeting in Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, where John A. Lomax was lecturing. The press got a hold of his story and wrote him up as a convict who had sung his way out of prison. In 1935, newspapers loved teh concept of his background and after many write ups (and being one of the first subject of the Time's March of Times newsreels) Lead Belly had fame- but not fortune.
  • Lead Belly is Signed

    Lead Belly is Signed
    He began recording with ARC, the race records division of Columbia Records with little broad success because (in part) ARC only released his blues songs not his folks songs that made him famous. Any money he would make in the future was through touring not record sales.
  • After Another Stint in Jail

    After Another Stint in Jail
    After being released after a year in jail for assault, Lead Belly became a regular on Alan Lomax and Nicholas Ray's natiowide CBS radio show, Back Where I Come From. He also appeared in night clubs with Josh White, becoming a huge part of New York City's growing folk music scene (despite not being popular in Harlem) and befriending Sonny Terry, Woody Guthrie, and a young Pete Seeger (also part of the CBS radioshow)
  • Sang His Last Song

    Sang His Last Song
    He was the first American Country Blues singer with success in Europe. He had begun his first European tour in France but was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease. Lead Belly died later that year and he is currently honored with a life-size statue across from the Caddo Parish Courthouse in Shreveport.