nickname of Huddie William Ledbetter,
1885-1949, American singer, b. Mooringsport, La. While wandering through Louisiana and Texas, he earned a living by playing the guitar for dances. For a time he joined with Blind Lemon Jefferson, the blues singer, who influenced his future style. Leadbelly's blues and work songs are a survival of the earliest African-American music (see jazz
). He was jailed in 1918 for murder and put on a chain gang; he was pardoned in 1925 but was again put in jail for attempted murder (1930-34) and for assault (1939-40). The folklorist John A. Lomax
discovered Leadbelly in prison and used his songs for a book, Negro Folk Songs as Sung by Lead Belly
(1936). In the 1940s Leadbelly made numerous nightclub appearances, accompanying himself on his 12-string guitar; in 1949 he made a concert tour in France.
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