- NAME: Lead Belly
- OCCUPATION: Murderer, Songwriter, Guitarist, Singer
- BIRTH DATE: c. 1885
- DEATH DATE: December 06, 1949
- Did You Know?: Lead Belly was known as the King of the 12-String Guitar.
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Mooringsport, Louisiana
- PLACE OF DEATH: New York, New York
- Originally: Huddie William Ledbetter
- AKA: Huddie Ledbetter
- AKA: Lead Belly
- Nickname: King of the 12-String Guitar
Best Known For
Lead Belly was a folk-blues singer, songwriter and guitarist whose ability to perform a vast repertoire of songs and notoriously violent life made him a legend.
Think you know about Biography?
Answer questions and see how you rank against other players.Play Now
Famed musician Lead Belly was born in Mooringsport, Louisiana, in the late 1880s. Lead Belly was imprisoned in Texas for murder in 1918. According to tradition, he won his early release in 1925 by singing a song for the governor of Texas. Lead Belly was imprisoned again, for attempted murder, in 1930. There, he was "discovered" by folklorists John Lomax and Alan Lomax, who were collecting songs for the Library of Congress. Subsequently,
he published 48 songs.
Huddie Ledbetter, better known as "Lead Belly," was born in the late 1880s (the date is uncertain) in a country setting in northwest Louisiana. He attended school in Texas until around age 13, playing in a school band, and then worked the land with his father.
He began learning how to play musical instruments as a youth and eventually focused on the guitar, performing as a teenager at local dances. At age 16, he headed out across the Deep South, settling in Shreveport, Louisiana, for two years, where he supported himself as a musician. Around 1912, now living in Dallas with his new wife, Ledbetter met Blind Lemon Jefferson, an accomplished street musician, and the pair began playing together. It was at this point that Ledbetter concentrated on what would become his signature instrument: the 12-string guitar.
In December 1917, Ledbetter was arrested and charged with murder and was found guilty. Prison is where it seems he picked up the nickname Lead Belly. In early 1924, only a few years into a 20-year sentence, Lead Belly sang for Texas governor Pat Neff a song in which he asked for a pardon. A year later, Neff pardoned Lead Belly and he was a free man.
Only five years later, Lead Belly was involved in a stabbing incident that led to "assault with intent to murder" charges and another prison sentence. Budget issues causes by the Great Depression allowed him to apply for early release, which he did, and the sitting governor approved the application in 1934. (He also sang a song to this governor, pleading for release.)
Lead Belly subsequently ended up in New York and tried to establish himself as a professional musician. It worked to an extent, as his music was embraced by the fervent left wing, and Lead Belly found himself rubbing elbows with the likes of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger.
Unfortunately, in March 1939, Lead Belly was arrested in New York for stabbing a man and served an eight-month sentence. After his release, Lead Belly appeared on two radio series—"Folk Music of America" and "Back Where I Come From"—and landed his own short weekly radio show. He also recorded an album called The Midnight Special and Other Southern Prison Songs before moving to the West Coast a few years later.
While in Los Angeles, he signed with Capitol Records and finally began some serious recording. Even as he achieved success he developed health issues, though, and in 1949 he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
profile name: Lead Belly profile occupation:
Sign in with Facebook to see how you and your friends are connected to famous icons.
Your Friends' Connections
Included In These Groups
When musicians land big fame, there typically comes a moment of reinvention in which the "rock star" identity is born. This new persona often requires a new name, a way to differentiate between the private and public versions of themselves. Musical monikers take different forms, from the simple, last-name changes aimed at boosting celebrity appeal—like Steven Tyler—to the glamorized version of a childhood nickname—like Jay-Z. Musicians' nicknames and aliases tend to take on an identity all their own over time, often becoming as full of personality as the artists they represent.
Musical Monikers 109 people in this group
In entertainment, where the line between fiction and reality is often blurry, names are a crucial part of a celebrity's image. Stage names are often chosen to make an actor or musician's name easier to pronounce or remember, or simply to make it sounds more attractive. Here are famous celebrities who have changed their names.
Name Changers 236 people in this group
They make music with instruments they were born with - their voices. Gifted vocalists have entertained audiences across musical genres from the tour de force arias of Luciano Pavarotti to the classic crooning of Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett to the soulful vocals of artists like Aretha Franklin and Mahalia Jackson. With their powerful lyricism, singers like Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and Bruce Springsteen became poet laureates of American music while artists including Joan Baez and Joe Strummer used their voices to prompt social change while they entertained. Rockers from Elvis Presley to The Beatles to Kurt Cobain helped define their generations through their songs while icons like Michael Jackson, Cher and Whitney Houston shaped pop culture with their larger-than-life voices and personas. See these and more famous singers who have struck a chord in musical history.
Famous Singers 774 people in this group