Huddie Ledbetter ( -- 1949 )
Musician; born near Morringsport, La. A legendary singer and guitarist, he was raised near Shreveport, La., worked on farms in Texas, and began performing in Dallas, Texas, as a protégé of Blind Lemon Jefferson in the 1910s. (Leadbelly got his own nickname because of his deep bass voice.) In 1917 he was sentenced to prison on a murder conviction; eight years later he literally sang a plea of mercy to the Texas governor and was pardoned. A similar episode occurred in 1935: In 1930 he had been sentenced to ten years for wounding a group of men with a knife; in 1934 Leadbelly composed a song for the Louisiana governor, and, with the intervention of the folklorists John and Alan Lomax, won a reprieve. Over the next year, Leadbelly traveled with John Lomax and recorded hundreds of songs that formed a cornerstone of the Library of Congress folklore archives. In 1938 he moved permanently to New York City, where he recorded for Columbia Records and became a celebrated figure in literary and political circles. His best-known songs include "Irene, Good Night," "Rock Island Line," and "Midnight Special."