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This Week in Texas Music History: Lead Belly
by Stephen Becker 20 Jan 2012

This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll honor one of the most influential artists in American music.


Art&Seek presents This Week in Texas Music History. Every week, we’ll spotlight a different moment and the musician who made it. This week, Texas music scholar Gary Hartman honor one of the most influential artists in American music.

You can also hear This Week in Texas Music History on Sunday at precisely 6:04 p.m. on KERA radio. But subscribe to the podcast so you won’t miss an episode. And our thanks to KUT public radio in Austin for helping us bring this segment to you. And if you’re a music lover, be sure to check out Track by Track, the bi-weekly podcast from Paul Slavens, host of KXT’s The Paul Slavens Show, heard Sunday night’s at 8.

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Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, was born Jan. 21, 1888, near Mooringsport, La. When he was a child, his family moved to Texas. Lead Belly traveled throughout East Texas playing music in saloons and on street corners. While living in Dallas’s Deep Ellum neighborhood, he performed with Blind Lemon Jefferson and other prominent Texas artists. By the 1930s, Lead Belly was serving time in Louisiana’s Angola prison when Texas folklorist John Lomax convinced the warden to release the singer. Soon, Lomax was organizing national tours for Lead Belly and recording what would become some of his most popular tunes.

Lead Belly had a profound influence on some of the most popular white folk singers of his time, including Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, and helped inspire the folk music movement of the 1960s.

Next time on This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll meet one of the most successful yet least well-known musicians ever to come from the Lone Star State.