1998 32¢ Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter
Issue Date: March 19, 1998
City: New York, NY
Printed By: Banknote Corporation of America
Printing Method: Lithographed
Perforations: Die Cut 11.3
Called the “king of the 12-string guitar players,” Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter (1885-1949) was a guitarist, singer, and composer. Although his musical interests began in his early years, he wasn’t recognized as a performer until after the age of 49.
Much of Leadbelly’s music is a result of his upbringing. Born in Mooringsport, Louisiana, he was exposed to southern black American music and hymns. In his teens, a guitar given to him by his father was a constant companion. He traveled the country picking out songs on the instrument, playing street corners to make money. He also made a living in cotton fields and construction. Field hands gave him the nickname “Leadbelly” because he was such a fast worker.
In 1932, Leadbelly was discovered while serving a jail term in Louisiana, when folk song expert Dr. John Lomax asked him to record prison songs. Good behavior got him released in 1934, and he showed up in New York City with a beat-up green guitar, held together by a piece of string. From then on, Leadbelly gave concerts across the country, appearing in nightclubs and concert halls, and on radio networks. One of his most famous songs was “Goodnight Irene.”