TakeHome Media is proud to present "Lead Belly Fest" on the 15th of June 2015 at the Royal Albert Hall.
The evening will take the form of a tribute concert to Lead Belly with numerous high-profile artists from around the world performing their musical homage to the great man.
The charities being supported by the gig are The Shooting Star Chase Children's Hospice Care, The Lead Belly Estate and The Lead Belly Foundation
Huddie William Ledbetter (January 20, 1888 – December 6, 1949) is best known as Lead Belly. Though many releases list him as "Leadbelly", he spelled it "Lead Belly". This is also the usage on his tombstone, as well as of the Lead Belly Foundation.
Lead Belly's volatile temper sometimes led him into trouble with the law. In 1915, he was convicted of carrying a pistol and sentenced to time on the Harrison County chain gang. He escaped, finding work in nearby Bowie County under the assumed name of Walter Boyd. In January 1918 he was imprisoned at the Imperial Farm in Sugar Land, Texas after killing one of his relatives, Will Stafford, in a fight over a woman. It was there he may have first heard the traditional prison song Midnight Special.
In 1925 he was pardoned and released after writing a song to Governor Pat Morris Neff seeking his freedom, having served the minimum seven years of a 7-to-35-year sentence. In combination with good behaviour (including entertaining the guards and fellow prisoners), his appeal to Neff's strong religious beliefs proved sufficient. It was quite a testament to his persuasive powers, as Neff had run for governor on a pledge not to issue pardons (at the time the only recourse for prisoners, since in most Southern prisons there was no provision for parole. According to Charles K. Wolfe and Kip Lornell's book, The Life and Legend of Leadbelly (1999), Neff had regularly brought guests to the prison on Sunday picnics to hear Lead Belly perform.
In 1930 Lead Belly was in Louisiana's Angola Prison Farm after a summary trial for attempted homicide, charged with stabbing a white man in a fight. It was there he was "discovered" three years later during a visit by folklorists John Lomax and his then 18-year-old son Alan Lomax.
Deeply impressed by Ledbetter's vibrant tenor and extensive repertoire, the Lomaxes recorded him on portable aluminium disc. They returned with new and better equipment in July of the following year (1934), recording hundreds of his songs. On August 1, Lead Belly was released after having again served almost all of his minimum sentence following a petition the Lomaxes had taken to Louisiana Governor Oscar K. Allen at his urgent request. It was on the other side of a recording of his signature song, "Goodnight Irene"
A prison official later wrote to John Lomax denying that Ledbetter's singing had anything to do with his release from Angola, state prison records confirming he was eligible for early release due to good behavior. For a time, however, both Ledbetter and the Lomaxes believed that the record they had taken to the governor had hastened his release from Angola.