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Leadbelly dies


On this day in 1949, blues pioneer Huddie Ledbetter, popularly known as “Leadbelly,” died in New York City. Born in 1888, the son of a black sharecropper, Leadbelly grew up in Louisiana and East Texas before striking out on his own in 1901 to live the life of a musician. He eventually made his way to Dallas, where he met songster Blind Lemon Jefferson playing on the streets of Deep Ellum, the town’s notorious black district. In 1918 Leadbelly was sentenced to thirty years in the Texas penitentiary for murder, but Gov. Pat Neff pardoned him in 1925 after the blues player wrote a song in his honor. In 1930, however, Leadbelly was imprisoned again, this time in Angola, Louisiana, on an assault charge. It was here where pioneer recording archivists John Avery Lomax and his son Alan discovered the blues guitarist and recorded his songs for posterity. Leadbelly was soon released as a result of their appeals and eventually toured the country, thus bringing his work songs and spirituals to a wider audience and influencing new generations of songwriters and guitarists. In 1988 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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