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Lead Belly: The Jailhouse is Full of BluesAdd to Queue

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  • Date posted : Jan 01, 1970


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Dr. Mark Jackson of the MTSU English Department led a special lecture on folk and blues musician Huddie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter, Tuesday, April 3. The special lecture held at the Paul W. Martin Senior Honors Building on campus, was part of the Spring 2012 Honors Lecture Series at MTSU on "Prison Writing." Ledbetter was a Louisiana native who gained national fame in the 1940s after decades of performing folk and blues music across the South. Imprisoned twice, "Lead Belly" used his jail time to learn and write more songs, even using music to gain a pardon from a Texas governor. Folklorists Alan and John Lomax discovered Ledbetter in the Angola Prison Farm while recording prison songs for the Library of Congress and brought him and his music to the rest of the world. "Lead Belly" was best known for his work on the 12-string guitar, although he played multiple instruments, including the accordion, mandolin and piano. He brought folk ballads like "Goodnight Irene," "Midnight Special," "The House of the Rising Sun" and "The Rock Island Line" into the mainstream and wrote his own gospel, blues, folk, political and topical songs. Jackson teaches courses on American literature, popular culture, folklore and American song at MTSU. He published "Prophet Singer: The Voice and Vision of Woody Guthrie" through the University Press of Mississippi in 2007 and also compiled, edited and produced several CDs through the West Virginia University Press,including "Coal Digging Blues: Songs of West Virginia Miners."

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