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Eric Burdon concludes his examination of the life, music and legacy of seminal American folk singer Huddie (Lead Belly) Ledbetter who had a major influence on popular music on both sides of the Atlantic during the 20th Century.

Part two looks at how Lead Belly's violent streak landed him in serious trouble on several occasions. In 1918 he killed a man and was jailed for murder for 30 years but, as legend would have it, he managed to sing himself out of prison not once but twice. On the second occasion though, his freedom probably had far more to do with prison overcrowding than it did with his musical talents!

But it was his time in prison in the 1930s that would help him land the big time. Folklorists John and Alan Lomax had been touring jails recording prison songs for the Library of Congress when they discovered Lead Belly. On his release, they introduced him to the New York folk scene and the "King of the 12 string guitar" would record for a variety of record labels; become known for a broad range of folk, blues and protest songs; and even present his own radio show.

Despite his tough upbringing, a reputation for womanising and his violent streak, Lead Belly had a softer side too. Children's songs were very much part of his repertoire, which included Skip To My Lou and Ha Ha This-Away.

Lead Belly died in 1949 but his legacy lives on. Within months of his death, Pete Seeger and the Weavers had released Goodnight Irene and his influence would soon seep into swing, skiffle and later rock and roll.

Among those celebrating the life and times of Lead Belly in part two are: Bryan Ferry; Nile Rodgers; Arlo Guthrie; Lead Belly's relatives Tiny Robinson and Alvin Singh, British Sea Power and the UK musician and artist Billy Childish.

30 minutes

Last on

Wed 11 Jan 2017 02:00