The Life and Legend of Leadbelly

Charles K. Wolfe, Author, Kip Lornell, With HarperCollins Publishers $25 (333p) ISBN 978-0-06-016862-9
Well researched and thoughtful, this biography depicts the career of Huddie ``Leadbelly'' Ledbetter (1888-1949), among the most influential of American folksingers. Folk music enthusiasts will be familiar with the highlights of Leadbelly's life--how his music earned him a pardon from prison, how folk-music experts John and Alan Lomax discovered and promoted him, how songs he either wrote or embellished (``Goodnight Irene'' and ``Midnight Special,'' for example) have become an integral part of American musical tradition--but it is the level of detail that Wolfe and Lornell bring forward that makes this book a standout. Leadbelly's early years in Louisiana and Texas, his introduction to music and his life in prison are portrayed in a fast-paced style that lends immediacy to the book. The introduction to the Lomaxes, Leadbelly's foray into New York society, his eventual estrangement from John Lomax and his recording and performance career are equally well chronicled in this notable effort. Wolfe is an English professor at Middle Tennessee University; Lornell is a consultant for the Leadbelly Archives at the Smithsonian. Photos not seen by PW. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 11/30/1992
Release date: 12/01/1992
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