Lead Belly Tribute at Rock Hall

Photo by Charles Peterson courtesy of Don Peterson

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and Case Western Reserve University will celebrate the legacy of Lead Belly in the Ninth Annual American Music Masters Series this November. Lead Belly, one of the most influential musicians of the twentieth century was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. An emblem of authentic American Folk music, Lead Belly had an inestimable impact on folk, blues and rock and roll musicians alike. Artists as diverse as Muddy Waters, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Kurt Cobain, Neil Young, Keb’ Mo, George Harrison, Frank Sinatra, Ernest Tubb, Johnny Cash and countless others have noted the influence that he had on their own music. Lead Belly will be honored with a weeklong series of events beginning Nov. 1 and culminating with a tribute concert on Nov. 7.

Lead Belly lived a life that included poverty and long stretches in prison to become an emblem of authentic American music. He is renowned for his songs – the best known of which include Rock Island Line, Goodnight, Irene, The Midnight Special and Cotton Fields – as well as his prowess on the 12-string guitar. In his sixty-plus years, he essentially lived two distinctly different lives: first, as a field worker, blues singer, rambling man and prisoner in the rural South; second, as a city-dwelling folksinger, performer and recording artist in the urban North.

In the last years of his life, Lead Belly’s music became increasingly crucial to a new generation of folk artists. As politics and music became evermore intertwined, Lead Belly provided a model of involvement. Like Guthrie, he played at political rallies and union meetings, continuing until his death in 1949 of Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The highlight of the series is the tribute concert at Cleveland’s Severance Hall on Sunday, Nov. 7. Performers include Robert Plant, Alison Krauss, Los Lobos, Odetta, Dave Alvin, Robert Lockwood, Jr. and others.

The week-long series of events includes the opening of a new Lead Belly exhibit at the rock hall, an interdisciplinary conference sponsored by CWRU, movie screenings, and concerts by Oscar Brand, Josh White Jr. and Dan Zanes. For a complete schedule, click here.

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