Legal name: Huddie William Ledbetter
Huddie William Ledbetter (January 20, 1888 – December 6, 1949) was an American folk and blues musician notable for his strong vocals, virtuosity on the twelve-string guitar, and the songbook of folk standards he introduced.
He is best known as Lead Belly. Though many releases list him as "Leadbelly", he himself wrote it as "Lead Belly". This is also the spelling on his tombstone, as well as of the Lead Belly Foundation. In 1994 the Lead Belly Foundation contacted an authority on the history of popular music, Colin Larkin, editor of the Encyclopedia of Popular Music, to ask if the name "Leadbelly" could be altered to "Lead Belly" in the hope that other authors would follow suit and use the artist's correct appellation.
Although Lead Belly usually played the twelve-string guitar, he could also play the piano, mandolin, harmonica, violin, and Cajun accordion ("windjammer"). In some of his recordings, such as in one of his versions of the folk ballad "John Hardy", he performs on the accordion. In other recordings he sings while clapping his hands or stomping his foot.
The topics of Lead Belly's music covered a wide range, including gospel; blues about women, liquor, prison life, and racism; and folk songs about cowboys, prison, work, sailors, cattle herding, and dancing. He also wrote songs about people in the news, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Adolf Hitler, Jean Harlow, the Scottsboro Boys, and Howard Hughes.
Lead Belly was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 in the "Early Influence" category. In 2008, he was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.