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Leadbelly's (1888-1949) hard life

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Is anybody else fascinated by the life of Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter? He killed a man, attempted to murder another one, and spent his life in and out of prison. Man must have had some major temperamental issues for real. R.I.P.

I'd recommend giving this a read:

I never got the impression that Leadbelly was an especially violent person, but that he grew up in a milieu where violence was sadly very common.


--- Quote ---Man must have had some major temperamental issues for real.
--- End quote ---

I think you're misreading both the man and the world he lived in, cjblues.  Certainly Leadbelly was no angel, but remember that he lived in a certain time and place, and had to deal with things that we can barely imagine today.  While various accounts differ, Leadbelly's "attempted murder" conviction apparently was due to several white men attacking him for being seemingly irreverent when a Salvation Army band was playing a religious song.  In a fairer world, it might have been excused as self-defense, but at the time having a black man injure a white man was an unforgivable sin - Leadbelly was almost lynched by an angry mob for it.

Also remember that we just don't know a lot of biographical information about a lot of pre-war blues musicians, so we have a very partial view of what was "normal" in their lives.  We do know that Booker White did time for shooting an attacker in the leg, and Son House killed 2 men, one during an incident at a juke in 1928, and one, in self-defense, at a migrant labor camp in Cotchogue, NY in 1955.  No one who knew either man after their rediscovery has ever suggested that either of them had "some major temperamental issues".

To me, what's more impressive was Leadbelly's ability to navigate through and thrive in seemingly whatever situation he found himself, from Texas jukes to prison to New York City salons to children's concerts.

For anyone who's interested, I'd highly recommend The Life and Legend of Leadbelly by Charles Wolfe and Kip Lornell.  It gives a pretty well-rounded picture of the various phases of Leadbelly's life.   

For those interested in Leadbelly, the 2022 Blues Images calendar has a picture of him on the January page, and the accompanying CD has 2 radio broadcasts of his, one from 1945 (4 songs), and one from 1949 (5 songs).

Blues Vintage:
Thanks dj.

I always thought that Leadbelly was more a songster/folk musician than a bluesman. Not sure if that's true.


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