Lot #384
Huddie ‘Lead Belly’ Ledbetter

Lead Belly's never-before-seen unpublished biography
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Estimate: $12000+

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Lead Belly's never-before-seen unpublished biography

Unprecedented collection of typescript and manuscript notes for an unpublished biography of Huddie 'Lead Belly' Ledbetter, originally recorded and compiled by his management team of Marjorie Fairbanks and her son Austin C. Fairbanks. The partial biography consists of eighteen sheets, ranging in size from 8.5 x 2.25 to 8.5 x 11, with some sheets featuring additional text to reverse, others arranged with affixed paragraph slips, and all bearing extensive pencil corrections and emendations. The notes concern the decade-long friendship between Ledbetter and Austin Fairbanks, and cover a wide range of topics that include Ledbetter’s early years, the origins of his musical talent, his relationship with folklorists John and Alan Lomax, and his seven-month incarceration after a Manhattan stabbing in 1939. One segment references songwriter Woody Guthrie, whom Ledbetter befriended during his time in New York City, in part (spelling and grammar retained): "I was going to ask somthing that perhaps is not important but the general commentary or mr woodie guthrie when he writes about leadbelly is that he sings with a force to be compared with the force with which a prisoner sings after he is released from concentration camps."

Another relates to Ledbetter's release from Imperial Farm prison: "After his prison sentence in 1917 he served seven years until 1925 he went back to lethe who had apparently picked up with another man and his song dont you love your daddy may very well reflect his feelings in that he had always kaken care of her while he was with her and while he wqs in prison through no fault of his own and when he came back she wasn't half as enthusiastic about him." A later passage refers to the 1939 attack in Manhattan: "He gave a recital in new york and two friends who had walked to it with him tried to hold him up as he was returning home with the money that he had collected. He had the money in a paper bag when they tried to hold him up at his apartment door. They attacked him with a knife trying to do a regular mugging and threatening to cut his throat. He took the knife away from that man and beat him into a pulp, cutting the other one pretty abdly, leaving him to ran away." Includes the original folder. In very good to fine condition, with general toning and occasional chipping to the edges of some papers. Many of the details found within the typescript notes have yet to be published, making this a tremendously important research archive for the legendary blues musician.

Auction Info

  • Auction Title: Fine Autograph and Artifacts, Ft. Hollywood
  • Dates: March 26 - April 14