Leadbelly, nickname of Huddie William Ledbetter, 1885–1949, American singer, b. Mooringsport, La. While wandering through Louisiana and Texas, he earned a living by playing the guitar for dances. For a time he joined with Blind Lemon Jefferson, the blues singer, who influenced his future style. Leadbelly's blues and work songs are a survival of the earliest African-American music (see jazz ). He was jailed in 1918 for murder and put on a chain gang; he was pardoned in 1925 but was again put in jail for attempted murder (1930–34) and for assault (1939–40). The folklorist John A. Lomax discovered Leadbelly in prison and used his songs for a book, Negro Folk Songs as Sung by Lead Belly (1936). In the 1940s Leadbelly made numerous nightclub appearances, accompanying himself on his 12-string guitar; in 1949 he made a concert tour in France.
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