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Lead Belly - Lead Belly Sings for Children

Folk and Blues Legend Sings for the Kids

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Lead Belly - Lead Belly Sings for Children
Courtesy Smithsonian Folkways

Lead Belly, aka Huddie Ledbetter, recorded many sing-alongs, play party songs, and folk tunes for children over his storied career. Lead Belly Sings for Children collects them all in one neat package.

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The Artist

Huddie Ledbetter (1888-1949) was a convicted murderer and an itinerant musician, but he was also an extremely important documentarian of many traditional blues and folk tunes, including play and party songs for children. He became a star of sorts in the 1930s and 1940s with the support of folk music collectors John and Alan Lomax, and Folkways Records co-founder Moses Asch. Ledbetter wrote the often-covered "Cotton Fields," and was the first to record the folk standards "Goodnight, Irene" and "Rock Island Line."

The Music

Lead Belly Sings for Children isn't a straight reissue of a single album. In fact, it's compiled from several different sources and recording dates. This CD contains selections from the 1960 Folkways album Negro Folk Songs for Young People, five of the six tracks from the 1941 Folkways album Play Parties in Song and Dance as Sung by Lead Belly, various tunes recorded by Moses Asch between 1941 and 1948, and an unreleased radio broadcast of "Take This Hammer."

What's remarkable about this collection is that Lead Belly sang to children as he would any other audience. He included work songs ("Pick a Bale of Cotton"), gospel tunes ("Swing Low, Sweet Chariot"), political songs ("We're in the Same Boat, Brother"}, and the blues ("When a Man's a Long Way from Home") in his repertoire for kids, along with familiar songs like "Skip to My Lou," "Sally Walker," and "Blue-Tailed Fly."

Ledbetter's powerful voice and ringing 12-string guitar are unmistakable and inimitable. Compare his versions of "Grey Goose" and "Blue-Tailed Fly" to Burl Ives' and Pete Seeger's, respectively. And after listening to songs like "More Yet," "Ha Ha This A-Way," and "By and By When the Morning Comes," it's clearly evident that Ledbetter had a natural rapport with kids.

The Verdict

Besides being an excellent document of African-American folk song history, this CD is a great way to introduce kids to a one-of-a-kind musician and singer, because children will never hear anyone perform songs live in Lead Belly's unique style ever again. Lead Belly Sings for Children is historical, powerful, and, above all, fun.

Released March 23, 1999; Smithsonian Folkways

back to Top Five Classic Children's Albums

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