Huddie Ledbetter (January 20, 1888 - December 6, 1949) was an iconic American folk and blues musician, and multi-instrumentalist, notable for his strong vocals, his virtuosity on the twelve-string guitar, and the songbook of folk standards he introduced.
Although Lead Belly most commonly played the twelve-string, he could also play the piano, mandolin, harmonica, violin, and accordion. In some of his recordings, such as in one of his versions of the folk ballad "John Hardy", he performs on the accordion instead of the guitar. In other recordings he just sings while clapping his hands or stomping his foot.
The topics of Lead Belly's music covered a wide range of subjects, including gospel songs; blues songs about women, liquor, prison life, and racism; and folk songs about cowboys, prison, work, sailors, cattle herding, and dancing. He also wrote songs concerning the newsmakers of the day, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Adolf Hitler, Jean Harlow, the Scottsboro Boys, and Howard Hughes.
In 2008, Lead Belly was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.
Though many of his posthumous releases list him as "Leadbelly," he himself spelled it "Lead Belly." This is also the usage on most of his original records, tombstone, as well as of the Lead Belly Foundation.
Leadbelly was born in Mooringsport, Louisiana, and spent time in and out of prison most of his life. In 1933, serving a sentence for attempted murder, musicologists John and Alan Lomax "discovered" him on a field recording tour sponsored by the Library of Congress. That summer, he was pardoned by the governor of Lousiana after recording his plea for pardon on a record, together with "Good Night Irene". Leadbelly went on to make hundreds of recordings of all sorts of different songs: country, blues, spirituals, reels, and work chants.
His songs have been covered by Mark Lanegan, The Animals, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Nirvana, Lonnie Donegan, Johnny Cash, Gene Autry, The Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin, British Sea Power, Ram Jam, Ry Cooder, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Half Man Half Biscuit, Tom Waits, Shocking Blue , Nirvana, The White Stripes, Long John Baldry.