December 16, 2015
The Fifth Day of Christmas Music – 2015 Edition
Christmas is A-Coming (Chicken Crows at Midnight) – Lead Belly
The long and storied history of Lead Belly (born Huddie William Ledbetter) – “King of the 12-string guitar” – is longer than this space allows.
Born in the late 1880’s, he was already performing professionally by 1903. He served multiple prison sentences for a variety of infractions, and it was while in prison that he was first recorded by folklorists John Lomax and his son Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress. After leaving prison in 1934, he worked for Lomak for a while (they eventually split under bad terms), while at the same time still performing; however by 1939 he found himself back in prison again.
Released from prison (again) in 1940 or 41, he spent the first half of that decade recording for RCA, the Library of Congress, Capitol Records, and Moe Asch (future founder of Folkways Records).
Lead Belly was the first American country blues musician to see success in Europe, and it was during a European tour in 1949 that he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease. His final concert was at the University of Texas at Austin, and shortly there-after he died in New York City from the disease.
Taken from the Smithsonian Folkways recording Lead Belly Sings for Children.