A musical genius, Huddie William Ledbetter (Lead Belly), started at a very young age playing the harmonica, accordion, and the 6 and 12 string guitar bass. He attended school in Texas until around age 13, playing in a school band, and then worked the land with his father. As he grew older, he became a wanderer, often drifting from state to state, playing music, and always too restless to call one place, in particular, home.
Lead Belly worked as a traveling musician with Blind Lemon Jefferson. In 1918, he was imprisoned for murder; a picked up the name Lead Belly. After serving six years, he was later pardoned by the governor of Texas, who had visited the prison and heard him sing. Lead Belly resumed his life of wandering after jail but was jailed again for attempted murder in 1930 in the Angola, Louisiana prison farm. Louisiana prison farm.
There the folklorists John and Alan Lomax, who were collecting songs for the Library of Congress, discovered him. A campaign spearheaded by the Lomaxes secured his release in 1934, and he embarked on a concert tour of eastern colleges. Lead Belly subsequently moved to New York, where he worked as a chauffeur (for John Lomax) and occasional performer. During the last few years of his life, he found an appreciative new audience in the progressive folk community, befriending the likes of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. Lead Belly recorded for a variety of labels, including Folkways, and performed tirelessly, though still subsisting in relative poverty, until his death in 1949.