Carol Forsloff –The contributions made by African-Americans to American music cannot be overstated. Many of the rich jazz, gospel and blues songs enjoyed around the world were originally composed and performed by African-American musicians. One of the leaders of that standard folk blues music was that of Leadbelly.
Leadbelly, born Huddie Ledbetter, was a poor man who had a hard scrabble life that led him to the back roads of women, alcohol and jail. Nevertheless, he managed to climb out of the abyss of bad living to achieve a form of greatness with his music. He was discovered by a publishing group and ended up becoming immortalized by the type of music he performed and the accolades he received for his simple songs that touch the heart of America.
While present America labors over racial conflicts in politics, it is music that spans the globe and seems to eliminate those differences that are superficial. When the Leadbelly was singing, so was Woody Guthrie. They became friends and respected the music of each other. They were part of that tradition of musicians who composed music about ordinary events and ordinary people in simple ways. Leadbelly had the knack of artfully playing the 12 string guitar, which became an ongoing symbol of his style of music. Guthrie was primarily a composer of 3 to 4 chords songs done with simple strums. But both men were able to reach millions of people at the time they performed and continue to with rich and beautiful music that endures.
Leadbelly composed music such as Irene Good Night and The Midnight Special, long- held favorites by people who enjoy singing around campfires and celebrating music as a community. Another one of his favorite famous songs is the song, Cotton Fields. Although he is known for blues songs, he went beyond this genre to perform what are now American music standards and in reality music standards across the world. His contribution to music therefore surpasses just those simple strains of his songs but a harmony to unite hearts everywhere.