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Lead Belly

Lead Belly

Huddie William Ledbetter, (January 1888 – December 6, 1949) was an American folk and blues musician, notable for his clear and forceful singing, his virtuosity on the twelve string guitar, and the rich songbook of folk standards he introduced.

He is best known as Leadbelly or Lead Belly. Though many releases list him as "Leadbelly," he himself spelled it "Lead Belly." This is also the usage on his tombstone,[1][2] as well as of the Lead Belly Foundation.

Although he most commonly played the twelve string, he could also play the piano, mandolin, harmonica, violin, concertina, 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.

A remarkabley versatile songwriter, the topics of Lead Belly's music covered a wide range of subjects, including gospel songs; blues songs about women, liquor 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 President Franklin Roosevelt, Adolf Hitler, the untimely death of movie star Jean Harlow, and eccentric billionaire movie director and entrepreneur Howard Hughes.

"Scottsboro Boys" composed by Huddy Ledbetter

This spritely little song disguises a deadly serious topic, close to any African-American's heart, in a cheerful ragtime romp. The Scottsborough Boys case was a turning point in American race relations.

No crime in the exceedingly rascist history of the U.S.A. -- let alone a crime that never occurred -- produced as many trials, convictions, reversals, and retrials as did an alleged gang rape of two white girls by nine black teenagers on the Southern Railroad freight run from Chattanooga to Memphis on March 25, 1931.

Over the course of the next two decades, the struggle for justice of the "Scottsboro Boys," as the black teens were called, made celebrities out of anonymities, launched and ended careers, wasted lives and produced heroes, opened southern juries to blacks, exacerbated sectional strife, and divided America's political left...

The case stems from a crime that occurred in 1931. Nine African Americans, Charlie Weems, Ozie Powell, Clarence Norris, Olen Montgomery, Willie Roberson, Haywood Patterson, Andy and Roy Wright, Eugene Williams, were accused of raping two white women in a freight car while passing through the state of Alabama. The group was commonly known as the Scottsborough Boys. They were on the train when two white men picked a fight and lost.

Originally both girls claimed that they were raped by the Scottsborough Boys but later one of them retracted the claim. All of them, but Roy Wright, were sentenced to death in series of one day trials.

The defendants were only given access to their lawyers immediately before the trial and little or no defense strategy was planned.

The ruling was appealed on the grounds that group was not provided adequate legal counsel. The Alabama Supreme Court ruled 6-to-1 that the trial was fair (the strongly dissenting opinion was from the Chief Justice Anderson) and it was appealed to the Supreme Court.

(for a full account of the controversial trial visit


See a video about the Scottsborough Boys here.

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