Lead Belly/Lomax Chronology

See the Lead Belly/Lomax FAQ here.

Compiled by Ellen Harold and Don Fleming.

1867. September 23. John Avery Lomax born in Goodman, Mississippi.

1869. James and Susan Frances Lomax travel by covered wagon to Meridian, Texas, where they became pioneer farmers and raised eleven of their thirteen children. John Lomax’s love of folk music dated from his Texas childhood. Initiated into farm labor at age six, he later finds pleasure in memorizing and writing down the songs of cowboys driving their cattle up the trails near the family farm.

1885. January 29. Huddie Ledbetter born near Mooringsport, Louisiana, to an independent farm family. He attends school until end of eighth grade and takes high school courses. Ledbetter is an outstanding student and shows promise as a musician. (Some authorities give 1889 as Lead Belly’s year of birth; 1885 is the date given by the Lead Belly Foundation.)

1890. At age 21 John Avery Lomax leaves father’s farm, sells his pony to pay for his education at a Baptist Normal school, and earns money teaching English composition in business school. Begins helping parents and siblings financially.

1895–1897. John Lomax enrolls at the University of Texas where, at the age of thirty, he completes his Bachelor’s degree in English literature in two years. The degree in English, then a cutting-edge new field, required courses in Latin, Greek, Anglo-Saxon, and French.1 Lomax’s English professor disparages his collection of cowboy songs as “cheap and unworthy.”

1900 [1903]. Huddie Ledbetter’s daughter, Arthur Mae, is born to his girlfriend, Margaret Coleman. Margaret moves to Dallas with her parents. Lead Belly denied paternity, but he planned to stay with her after his release from Angola and sent her money in 1936.

1903–1904. John A. Lomax marries Bess Brown with whom he has four children: Shirley (b. August 7, 1905), John Jr. (b. June 14, 1907), Alan (b. January 31, 1915), and Bess (b. January 21, 1922). Teaches English at Texas A&M University and pursues graduate studies in English literature and composition in the summers at the University of Chicago and later as a full-time student at Harvard.

1906–1907. Lomax travels to Boston to become a full-time graduate student at Harvard and begins work on an M.A. thesis on English novelist George Meredith (1828–1909). Renowned scholar of Chaucer and Shakespeare, George Lyman Kittredge, senses the foundation of a true American vernacular literature in the folk song texts shown to him by Lomax and encourages him to pursue a vocation by collecting in the field: “Go out and get this material while it can be found — the words and the tunes. Set down the dates of your recordings. The name of the singer and where he got the song. . . . Preserve the words and music. That’s your job.”2

1907–1909. With help from Kittredge, Lomax gets a grant to research and collect cowboy songs. Most songs are gathered through correspondence, but Lomax also makes audio field recordings on Edison cylinders that constitute some of the first American folksongs to be recorded in the field by an American.3

1908. July 18. Huddie Ledbetter marries Aletha “Lethe” Henderson. The couple have no children of their own but take in the three children of Huddie’s half-brother on his mother’s side: Viola, Irene (associated with the song), and Alonzo Betts, Jr., after the death of their mother (this arrangement ends when Lead Belly enters Sugarland Prison in 1918; see below). Lead Belly and Lethe do agricultural work in the summers and Lead Belly also attains a reputation as a breaker of horses. In the winters he earns money busking in Dallas with a teenaged Blind Lemon Jefferson.

1909. Lomax’s presentation of a paper, “Cowboy Songs of the Mexican Border,” illustrated with his own singing, causes a sensation at the annual Modern Library Association meeting at Cornell University.

1910. Date uncertain. Lead Belly acquires first 12-string guitar.

1910. Lomax’s book Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads is published with an introduction by President Theodore Roosevelt. Some of the most famous songs in the book — "Get Along Little Doggies," "Sam Bass," and "Home on the Range" — were collected from black cowboy informants. Its publication sparks a nationwide flurry of interest in American folk songs. Lomax is elected president of the American Folk Song Society and travels the country, urging the formation of state folklore societies. He takes a job as an administrator at University of Texas and, together with Professor Leonidas Payne of the University of Texas, founds and shepherds the Texas Folklore Society.

1915. July. Lead Belly is arrested in connection with an assault over a woman (or on a woman) in Marshall, Texas. His father mortgages the farm to pay lawyer's fees. Lead Belly is tried, convicted (on July 26) of the lesser charge of carrying a pistol, and sentenced to 30 days on a chain gang. After three days, he escapes and, as a fugitive, assumes the alias of Walter Boyd. He and Lethe take up residence in De Kalb (in Bowie County, Texas) where he has relatives.

1916. In the inaugural issue of the Publications of the Texas Folklore Society John A. Lomax writes an essay urging the collection of Texas folklore: “Two rich and practically unworked fields in Texas are found in the large Negro and Mexican populations of the state.” He adds, “Here are many problems of research that lie close at hand, not buried in musty tomes and incomplete records, but in vital human personalities."

1917. In a political dispute, Governor James Ferguson fires the entire University of Texas faculty and staff, including John A. Lomax. Through his Harvard connections, Lomax finds a job as a bond salesman in a Chicago bank. While living in Chicago, he strikes up a lifelong friendship with poet Carl Sandburg. Both men share a high estimation of the poetic qualities of folk song texts. Sandburg calls the "Buffalo Skinners" "a novel," and pronounces the lyric poetry of the African-American secular song "If I Had Wings Like Nora's Dove" as fine as that of Sappho. Lomax spends the next fifteen years dividing his time between bank jobs, lecturing on folk music, and working with the Texas Folklore Society and the University of Texas alumni society.

1917. December 17. Will Stafford, a friend of Lead Belly's and the husband of one of his cousins, is shot in a dispute over a woman both admired. There are no witnesses, but Huddie is arrested for the murder.

1918. June 7. Convicted of homicide and assault with intent to kill, Huddie Ledbetter enters the Texas penitentiary at Sugarland under the name of Walter Boyd for a term of seven to thirty years. It is here that he probably got the name “Lead Belly.”

1918. August 7. Ledbetter’s second daughter Taleta “Panthy” Boyd is born to a girlfriend, Iola Boyd, age 16. Taleta Boyd, who was remembered as a talented gospel singer, died on December 6, 1991. Perhaps because she was born at the beginning of Lead Belly’s long prison term, her father seems to have had little to do with her. Imprisonment also seems to have put an end to his marriage to Lethe. It is unclear if the marriage was ever formally dissolved.5

1925. January 15. Texas Governor Pat M. Neff commutes Huddie Ledbetter's sentence in response to a song he composed in the Governor's honor. He had served virtually all of his seven-year minimum term.

1925. Moe Asch (b. Warsaw, Poland, December 2, 1905; d. New York, N.Y., October 19, 1986), later founder of Folkways Records, stumbles across John A. Lomax's book of cowboy songs in a Paris bookstand. The book and its Presidential endorsement make a profound impression on him. He had heard it said in Germany that "a people have no culture unless they have folksongs," and here was the ecvidence that Americans had their own distincitive culture.6

1925–1926. Lead Belly begins to work again as a musician, and to supplement his gigs takes a job in a Buick agency in Houston.

1926–1930. Lead Belly returns to live near Mooringsport, Louisiana, and works at the Gulf Refining Company in that town. During this period, he and his common law wife, Era Washington, take in and care for Lead Belly’s mother, Sallie. Lead Belly’s song, “Fo-Day Worry Blues,” describes his stormy relationship with Era, who had smashed his guitar in a fit of jealousy over his infidelities.7

1927. September 18. Lead Belly’s third daughter, Jessie Mae Ledbetter Baisley, is born to a girlfriend, Lizzie Pugh (later Lizzie Carey). The mother’s family tries to keep Lead Belly from seeing his daughter.

1927. John A. Lomax’s friend, Carl Sandburg publishes his American Song Bag anthology of folk music. It contains several songs credited as collected by John A. Lomax, including a version of “Boll Weevil” that Sandburg and Lomax heard in the field together; “Lone Star Trail”; and the long ballad, “The Buffalo Skinners”; which Sandburg in his book approvingly quotes Lomax describing as “having in its language a Homeric quality.” Ironically, this seeming hyperbole proved to contain an element of truth. In the 1950s, Harvard scholars Albert Lord and Milman Parry documented the singing of epic songs around the fire for evening entertainment by bards among Bosnian herding peoples. Their analysis of these bards’ method of oral composition offered confirmation of the insights of previous generations of critics and folklorists from the Romantic period (and earlier) about distinctive nature of oral composition and performance that would transform Homeric studies.

1930. January 15. Lead Belly is arrested in Mooringsport after defending himself with a knife in a fight with three white men who tried to push him off the sidewalk; one of them, Dick Ellet, is taken to the hospital with lacerations. The sheriff defends the jail against an angry white lynch mob.

1930. February 28. Lead Belly is convicted of assault with intent to kill in the wounding of Dick Ellet.8 He enters Angola State Prison near Baton Rouge for a term of five to ten years, once again separated from his family. His arrest record lists Era [Washington] as his wife.

1931. In a calamitous year for the Lomax family, Bess Brown Lomax dies. John, now age 64, loses his job when the Dallas bank where he worked fails. Lomax’s oldest son John “Johnny” Lomax, Jr. also loses his job at the City National Bank at Corpus Christi. He persuades his father to resume full-time folksong collecting, offering to help “until I can find a job that pays.” 

1932. Mid-February. John Lomax Jr. arranges a year-long series of cross-country lecture tours for his father, during which they will camp out and stay with friends to save money.

1932. June 7. While in New York, John A. Lomax visits the Macmillan Publishers where he secures a contract for an anthology of American folk music with special emphasis on hitherto neglected African-American secular (or “sinful”) songs. Lomax begins by visiting libraries and archives to see what research has been done. On June 8, he visits Herbert Putnam, head of the Library of Congress (which he described as “a university of the people”) and Karl Engel, Chief of the Music Division.

1932. June 16. After lecturing at Brown, and resting with friends in Boston, John A. and John, Jr., continue their cross-country lecture trip, joined by Alan.

1932. July. When the three men reach the West Coast, John Jr., receives news that Texas Senator Tom Connally has found a job for him. He leaves for Washington, D.C.

1932–1933. In December, 1932, John Lomax, Jr., meets with Robert Winslow Gordon, head of the newly-created Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress. The exact chronology is uncertain, but it is proposed that John A. Lomax will travel throughout the country making sound recordings for the Library’s collection. Lomax will use equipment supplied by the Library and would himself raise funds from private foundations for other expenses, as there are none then designated for this purpose. On December 26, 1932, John A. Lomax hears the news that he has secured a $3,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation to travel the country recording folk music and to deposit the recordings at the library of his choice (he had originally considered both the University of Texas and Harvard as well as the Library of Congress). He also receives a $350 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation for recording equipment and to refurbish his car.9

1933. June. Robert Winslow Gordon leaves the Library of Congress because of cost-cutting. While on his field trip assisted by Alan, John A. Lomax is appointed Honorary Consultant to the Archive of American Folk Music for a salary of one dollar a year, plus expenses. Father and son begin recording in Texas and Louisiana using a Dictaphone cylinder recorder.

1933. July. The Lomaxes receive a new, state-of-the art aluminum disc recorder from the Library of Congress. They arrive in Angola State Penitentiary only to find that singing on work gangs has been banned. Around July 16–20 at Angola they meet Lead Belly, whom they recognize as a great talent. In August the Lomaxes’ itinerary takes them to Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, and back to Washington, D.C.

1933. July 16–20. Louisiana State Penitentiary, Angola, Louisiana. The Lomaxes spent four days making records at Angola on this field trip. The exact dates of Huddie Ledbetter’s recordings are not known. (The titles are preceded by the Archive of American Folk Song’s catalog numbers.)

Huddie Ledbetter, vocal/guitar:

119-B-1 The Western Cowboy 
119-B-2 Honey Take a Whiff on Me 
119-B-4 Angola Blues 
119-B-5 Angola Blues 
119-B-6 Frankie and Albert 
120-A-1 Irene 
120-A-2 Take a Whiff on Me 
120-A-3 You Cain’ Lose Me Cholly 
120-A-6 Irene 
120-A-7 Irene 
120-B-5 Ella Speed

1934. April–August. The Lomaxes begin a second recording trip to the South for the Library of Congress, heading for the Cajun areas of Louisiana. They then revisit Lead Belly at Angola.

1934. July 1. Angola Prison. Lead Belly again records for John and Alan Lomax.

Huddie Ledbetter, vocal/guitar:

121-A Mister Tom Hughes’ Town
122-A-2 I Got Up This Morning, Had to Get Up So Soon 
122-B Western Cowboy 
123-A Blind Lemon Blues 
123-B Matchbox Blues 
124-A-1 Midnight Special 
124-A-2 Irene 
124-B-1 Irene 
124-B-2 Governor O.K. Allen 
125-A Frankie and Albert 
125-B Ella Speed 
126-A-1 Julie Ann Johnson 
126-A-2 You Cain’ Loose-A-Me Cholly [Sic]
126-A-3 Take a Whiff on Me 
126-B I’m Sorry Mama

1934. July 21. John A. Lomax marries Ruby Terrill, Associate Professor of Latin and Dean of Women (1925–37) at the University of Texas at Austin. They had first met in 1921 when she was Dean of Women at East Texas State Teachers College in Commerce, Texas (now part of Texas A&M), where Lomax was lecturing on his cowboy research.

1934. August 1. Lead Belly is reprieved for “double good-time” by Louisiana Governor O. K. Allen, having served four years, five months, and two days of his minimum five-year sentence. There is no indication that Lead Belly’s song, “Governor O.K. Allen,” a recording of which the Lomaxes had left with the governor’s secretary at Lead Belly’s request, played a part in his release, or that the Governor had ever listened to the record.

1934. August–September. Lead Belly writes to John A. Lomax, then away on honeymoon, asking for employment. Referring to a previous agreement to meet in Dallas, he wrote: “If you get there Before i do i  will Be in Kilgo [Kilgore] Texas But i am looking for you i am going to work for you, your Servan, Huddie Ledbetter.” He wrote again on September 4 and 12. On September 22 Lomax replied: “Come prepared to travel. Bring guitar.”10

1934. September 24. The two men meet in a hotel in Marshall, Texas, where they agree on a working relationship. Lead Belly takes a job as Lomax’s driver and assistant on Lomax’s recording trip. In Arkansas, they meet Johnny Lomax, who is there on business. Nolan Porterfield speculates that Johnny “may have encouraged the trip.”11

1934. September–October. John A. Lomax and Lead Belly travel throughout the South to collect examples of Black secular folk songs, primarily in penitentiaries. Lead Belly drives the car, assists with recording equipment, and helps to encourage singers. Recordings are made of Lead Belly and many other people.

1934, September 27, Little Rock, Arkansas 
Huddie Ledbetter, vocal/guitar: 
236-B-3 Mr. Tom Hughes’ Town 
239-A-3 Julie Ann Johnson 
Blind Pete/fiddle, George Ryan/guitar:
239-A-1 Booker
239-A-2 Stagolee
239-B-1 Cacklin’ Hen
239-B-2 Black Bayou Ain’t Got No Bottom
243-A-2 Banty Rooster
243-A-5 Blues
243-B-1 Banty Rooster
243-B-2 Banty Rooster
Unidentified convict group:
236-A-1 Rock Island Line
Unidentified convict:
236-A-2 Do You Want To Be A Lover Of The Lord?
236-A-3 Cap’n Tom
Unidentified female convict group:
236-B-1 The Sun Didn’t Shine On Yonder’s Mountain
236-B-2 The Sun Didn’t Shine On Yonder’s Mountain

1934, September 29, State Farm, Pine Bluff, Arkansas 
Huddie Ledbetter, vocal/guitar: 
240-A-4 Julie Ann Johnson 
Unknown white man, vocal; Huddie Ledbetter, guitar:
240-A-5 Lover in the Green Valley
Unidentified convict group:
240-A-1 Get Down Offa That Train
241-A-1 Skin and Bones
241-A-2 Drop ‘Em Down
241-B-1 Rosie
241-B-2 I Wonder If I Ever Will Get Back Home
Unidentified convict:
240-A-2 Whoa, Back, Buck

1934, October 1, State Farm, Tucker, Arkansas 
Leroy Allen, vocal; Huddie Ledbetter, guitar: 
246-B-1 Sweet Babe 
Huddie Ledbetter, vocal/guitar:
246-B-3 Mr. Tom Hughes’ Town 
Judge Williams:
246-A Po’ Laz’us

1934, October 5, Gould, Arkansas 
Huddie Ledbetter, vocal/guitar:
242-B-3 Julie Ann Johnson 
Felix Machen, Willis Johnson, John Nowlin, Leslie McPherson, Joe Battle, Minor Davis, and group:
242-A-1 The Bottom Boll Is Rotten
242-A-2 The Bottom Boll Is Rotten
F.D. “Black Will” Hall:
247-A-3 Oh, My Captain Don’t Depend On Me
Kelly Pace and group:
244-A-1 Oh, I’m So Sleepy
245-B-1 Jumpin’ Judy
248-A-1 Rock Island Line
248-B-1 It Makes A Long Time Man Feel Bad
Unidentified convict:
245-A-1 Stagolee
245-A-2 Bumble Bee
Two unidentified convicts:
244-A-2 Guard Talking To Convict
Unidentified convict group:
93-B The Twelve Disciples (Holy Babe)
244-B-1 Roxie
244-B-2 Runaway Negro
247-A-2 Do You Want To Be A Lover Of The Lord?
247-B-1 Job
248-A-2 I Went Up On the Mountain
248-A-3 I Went Up On the Mountain
249-A-1 I Have a Home in Yonder City
249-A-2 I Can’t Set Down
249-B-1 I Can’t Get My Number Here Today
249-B-2 Waterworks in Georgia

1934, October 14, Central State Farm, Sugarland, Texas
James “Iron Head” Baker:
242-B-1 Jack and Betsy
242-B-2 Good Morning Mister Charley
Moses “Clear Rock” Platt:
205-B-2 Old Rattler
224-B-2 That’s All Right Baby

1934, Oct 15, Shreveport, Louisiana 
Huddie Ledbetter, vocal/guitar:
273-A-1 Boll Weevil

1934, October 17, near Morgan City, Louisiana
John “Big Nig” Bray:
92-A Trench Blues
92-B Pullin’ Cypress Logs Out Of Swamp
93-A Trench Blues
242-A-3 The Trench Blues
1853-A-1 Coonjine, Roustabouts, Coonjine
1853-A-2 Stagolee

1934, October, Old State Penitentiary, Wetumpka, Alabama
Unidentified convict:
225-A-4 Lord, It’s Almost Done
225-B-3 My Baby’s Gone
Unidentified female convict:
225-B-2 Prisoner Girl Blues
Unidentified female convict group:
225-A-1 Didn’t It Rain
225-A-2 Kingdom
225-B-1 Didn’t It Rain
225-B-2 Humble

1934, October, Speigner, Alabama
Rufus Orum:
228-A-2 Sermon
Unidentified convict group:
226-A-4 Shine On Me
226-B-1 You Can’t Hide
226-B-2 You Can’t Hide
226-B-3 I Feel Like My Time Ain’t Long
227-A-1 Honey in the Rock
227-A-2 The Fairy Land
227-B-1 The Sun Will Never Go Down
227-B-2 Be Sure Down In Your Heart
228-A-1 It Jest Suits Me
228-B-2 Down That Road

1934, October 27–28, Kilby Prison, Montgomery, Alabama
Eugene Foster:
230-A Po’ Laz’us
230-B Red Ball Turning Over
237-A I’m So Heavy Loaded I Can’t Stand
237-B-2 Yaller Woman (Take These Chains)
Charles Griffin:
238-A John Henry
238-B Boll Weevil Rag
Henry Williams:
235-B-2 State Farm Blues
Willie Williams:
234-B-1 Pile Driving Song 
235-B-1 Alabama Whine
Unidentified convict group:
233-B-1 Soon’s Ever I Leave-a My Tomb
233-B-2 Jesus Going to Take Me In His Loving Arms
233-B-3 Done Lef’ This World Behin’
234-A-1 Drinkin’ Of the Wine
234-A-2 Diderot, One More Dirty Rounder Gone
235-A-1 De Blood Done Sign My Name
235-A-2 I Will Meet You on the Kingdom’s Shore

1934, October, State Prison Farm, Atmore, Alabama 
Albert Jackson:
231-A Stagolee
231-B-1 Hot Boiling Sun
231-B-2 Jailhouse Blues
232-B Pauline
Noah White:
229-B-1 The Storm Came Rollin’ Through Babylon
229-B-2 Separated Line
Unidentified convict group:
232-A-1 Where You Building Your Building?
232-A-2 The Boston Burglar
233-A-1 It Keeps Me Alive
Unidentified convict:
233-A-2 Prayer
233-A-3 Sermon

1934, October, Kirby Industrial School, Atmore, Alabama
Eight unidentified girls:
88-A-1 It Ain’t Gonna Rain No More
88-A-2 Little Sally Walker
88-A-3 Sally Go Round the Sunshine
88-A-4 Choodle-Di-Doo
88-A-5 Itiskit-Itaskit
88-A-6 Ladies in the Dining Room
88-A-7 Cocky-Doodle-Doodle-Do
88-A-8 It Ain’t Gonna Rain No More
88-B-1 Rosie
88-B-2 All Around the Maypole
88-B-3 Hopali (Hop-A-Lee)
88-B-4 Hop-A-Long
88-B-5 Miss Sue from Alabama

1934. Late October. American Ballads and Folk Songs is published by Macmillan. The collection included such beloved American classics as “Jesse James,” “Down in the Valley,” “Rye Whiskey,” “Little Brown Jug,” “Shortenin’ Bread,” “Cotton Eyed-Joe,” “Sweet Betsey from Pike,” “Yankee Doodle,” “Dixie,” “Amazing Grace,” “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” and more. In his introduction, John A. Lomax describes the team’s visits to prison farms and he argues, perhaps trying to convince himself, that despite the presence of the “forbidding iron bars, the stripes, the clank of occasional shackles,” and “the cruel-looking black bullwhip four feet long, which in some places hung in plain sight,” he saw “no evidence of cruel treatment” and he seems nonplussed by the “hopelessness” and “melancholy” expressed in the songs.12 This obliviousness undoubtedly raised the hackles of northern book reviewers, whose consciousness had been awakened, among other things, by the scathing exposé of Southern prison conditions in the movie, I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, starring Paul Muni (1932), which had been based on a true incident in Georgia.

1934. November, first week. John A. Lomax drops Ledbetter off in Shreveport, Louisiana, and returns to Austin, Texas. Lomax (alone or with one of his sons) then makes additional recordings in Texas.

1934, November 20–22, State Penitentiary, Huntsville, Texas
Augustus “Track Horse” Haggerty:
216-B-2 One Day As I Was Walking
218-A-2 I Saw That Light
219-A-1 Black Gal
219-B-2 Black Gal
222-B-1 Louisiana Blues
Augustus “Track Horse” Haggerty and group:
211-A-2 Old Rattler
219-B-1 Go On, Old ‘Gator
223-A-1 Oh Lordy, Lordy, Lord
223-A-2 The Grey Goose
237-A The Grey Goose
Augustus “Track Horse” Haggerty, Jesse Bradley, and group:
213-B-1 When the Moon Goes Down in Blood
213-B-2 Hammer Ring
216-A-5 Waco Ida
218-A-1 Midnight Special
219-A-2 Hammer Ring
222-A Drop, Old Diamond
Jesse Bradley and group:
217-B-2 Oh Lawdy
Lee Hunter and group:
215-A-2 God A’mighty Drag
Milton Locke:
221-B-1 Oozing Daddy
Tommie Randolph and group:
222-B-2 Heaven Is Only A Dream
Tommie Randolph, Lee Hunter, and group:
213-A-1 I’ll Be Satisfied Then
213-A-2 Climbing Up the Mountain
Unidentified convict group:
212-A-1 Set Down, Servant
212-B-1 Dry Bones
212-B-2 I Don’t Care Where They Carry My Body
214-A-1 Drop ‘Em Down
214-A-2 Good God A’mighty
214-B-1 Pick a Bale O’ Cotton
214-B-2 Pretty Yaller Gal
214-B-3 Black Betty

1934, November, Goree State Farm, near Huntsville, Texas
Unidentified female convict group:
220-A-1 Sunday Morning Band
220-A-2 I Just Want To Tell You What the Good Lord Done For Me
220-B-1 Somebody Got Drownded in the Sea
220-B-2 If You Don’t Wanta Get in Trouble

1934. November 20. In his review in New Masses of American Ballads and Folk Songs, Hungarian-born folklorist Lawrence Gellert, a Marxist, attacks John A. Lomax for not speaking out in defense of the Scottsboro boys and for his collecting methods, which Gellert falsely claimed included "bribing prison guards." A heated polemic ensues for several months in the letters to the editor column of the magazine, where readers pointed out that young Alan Lomax (then 19) has been speaking out in defense of the Scottsboro boys.13

1934. December. John A. Lomax, Alan Lomax, joined in Shreveport by Huddie Ledbetter, travel to Atlanta and Milledgeville, GA, “with Lead Belly again acting as first assistant, since Alan had fallen ill with influenza” (John A. Lomax in Negro Folksongs as Sung by Leadbelly, p. 44), Columbia, S.C., Raleigh, N.C., Philadelphia, PA, and Washington, D.C. John Lomax Jr. may have been along on some of this trip.

1934, December, Central State Farm, Sugarland, Texas
Unidentified convict, harmonica:
207-A-2 Fox Chase

1934, December 7, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Sidney Smith:
98-A-1 Influenza Epidemic in Baton Rouge

1934, December 11–12, Bellwood Prison Camp, Atlanta, Georgia
Huddie Ledbetter, vocal/guitar; Sloan Wright, dance calls:
250-B-1 The Shreveport Jail
250-B-2 Julie Ann Johnson 
252-A-1 Dance Calls
252-A-2 This Morning 
Jesse Wadley, leader; John Wadley, vocals; Will Jones, vocals; Felix Davenport, vocals:
253-A-1 Longest Train I Ever Saw
Two unidentified convicts:
252-B-2 It’s My Need
Unidentified convict group:
250-A The Twelve Disciples
250-B-3 Raise a Ruckus Tonight
251-A-1 Ding Dong Bells
251-A-2 Maggie Moore
252-B-1 Po’ Laz’us
253-A-2 Black Gal
253-B-1 Lady, Won’t You Pray For Me?
253-B-2 Longest Train I Ever Saw
254-A-1 Muley on the Mountain
254-A-2 Muley on the Mountain
254-B-1 I Promised Mr. Tyree
254-B-2 Take Me Back To Weldon
254-B-3 Ring Them Yaller Women’s Do’ Bells
255-A-2 Big Fat Woman
256-A-1 This Train
256-B-1 The Angels Rolled the Stone Away
256-B-2 Do You Want To Be A Lover Of The Lord?

1934, December 15, State Prison Farm, Milledgeville, Georgia
Roland Zachary and Paul Sylvester:
260-B-2 You Long-Time Old Rounder
260-B-3 Hammer Ring
Reese Crenshaw, vocal, guitar:
259-A-1 Trouble
259-A-2 John Henry
Milledgeville Georgia Singers (unidentified convict group):
263-A-1 (Ain’t) Nobody’s Fault But Mine
263-A-2 (Ain’t) Nobody’s Fault But Mine
Unidentified preacher:
258-A-2 Rock Foundation
260-A Prayer
Unidentified convict (possibly Reese Crenshaw):
258-B-1 Do Just Like My Lord Says Do
260-B-1 Stock Time
261-A-2 Tell Me Right
261-B-3 Sin No More
263-B-4 Georgia Hound Blues
Unidentified convict group:
257-A-1 Holy Righteous Number
257-A-2 I Heard the Angels Singing
257-A-3 John Was A-Writing
257-B-1 Tryin’ To Get Home
257-B-2 Oh My Lawd, What Shall I Do?
258-A-1 All The Way
258-A-3 Kneel Right On That Shore
258-B-2 I’ve Been To Jesus And I’ve Been Baptized
259-B-1 Packin’ Up and Getting’ Ready To Go
259-B-2 Mamie
261-A-1 Po’ Laz’us
261-A-3 One Mo’ Train
261-B-1 He’s A Battle-Ax
261-B-2 Po’ Laz’us
262-A-1 Waitin’ On You
262-A-2 Beautiful Gate
262-A-3 Mother, Please Don’t Drive Me Away
262-B-1 Never Spec’ To Stop Till I Join the Band
262-B-2 Hikin’ Jerry
262-B-3 Oh Lawdy Me, Oh Lawdy My
263-A-3 Ain’t That Good News?
263-A-4 While The Blood’s Running Warm In My Veins
263-B-1 He Done What De Doctor Could Not Do
263-B-2 Um-Hum, Oh Lordy, Um-Hum
263-B-3 We Don’t Get No Justice in Atlanta

1934, December 19, Reid State Farm, Boykin, South Carolina
J.M. Williams and group:
265-B-2 Oh Lawdy Me, Oh Lawdy My
266-A-2 The Downward Road Is Crowded
266-A-1 Where Is The Gambling Man?
Luther Mack, Tommy Miller, William Long, Julius Harmon:
265-A-2 I Sure Can’t Stand It Long
Unidentified prison group:
264-B-1 God, He Rolled In the Wind And The Storm
264-B-2 I’m Gonna Bathe My Weary Soul
265-A-1 Oh Lawdy Me, Oh Lawdy My
265-B-1 John Crossed The Water
266-B-1 I’m Goin’ Home On The Mornin’ Train
266-B-2 Sea, Sea, Got To Give Up The Dead
266-B-3 It May Be The Last Time
267-A Po’ Laz’us
267-B-1 Look Down That Long Lonesome Road
267-B-2 This Old Hammer
Clarence Banks, Bob Bentley, Charlie Blake, Harold Vosburg:
264-A-1 Do You Call That Religion
264-A-2 Travelin’ To That New Buryin’ Ground

1934, December 19–22, State Penitentiary, Raleigh, North Carolina
Blind Joe, vocal/guitar:
268-B-1 When I Lie Down Last Night
Norman Haskins:
270-A-1 Noah and the Flood
Robert Higgins:
270-A-2 Prison Blues
Johnny Miles:
98-B-1 Fox and the Lawyer
Johnny Myer:
269-A-3 Po’ Prisoner Blues
Amos Williams:
270-A-1 Green Grass Growing All Around
Unidentified convict group:
268-B-2 Don’t Talk About It
269-A-1 All Night Long
269-A-2 He Died Upon The Cross
270-B-1 Can’t Hide
270-B-2 Great Change Since I Been Born

1934. Christmas Eve. John A. Lomax, Alan Lomax, and Huddie Ledbetter arrive in Washington, D.C. John Lomax speaks and Lead Belly sings for Major Isaac Spalding and guests.

1934. Christmas morning. Lead Belly sings for journalists and is written up in the press as a former convict who has sung his way to pardon.

1934. December 26. John A. Lomax, Alan Lomax, and Huddie Ledbetter arrive in Philadelphia, PA.

1934. December 28. Ledbetter is interviewed by Kenton Jackson, a reporter for the Philadelphia Independent, one of the country’s leading black newspapers. The resulting article is entitled “Two Time Dixie Murderer Sings Way to Freedom.”14

1934. December 28–29. John A. Lomax attends the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association in Philadelphia and Lead Belly participates in his presentation on folk music for their “smoker” (a party and community sing) on the evening of the 28th. The next morning, at 9:00 a.m. on December 29, they perform for the Popular Literature section of the meeting. 

1934. December 30. Philadelphia, PA. John A. Lomax and Huddie Ledbetter appear for a Sunday afternoon “tea” for a group at the deanery of Bryn Mawr.

1934. New Year’s Eve. John A. Lomax, Lead Belly, and Alan Lomax arrive in New York City. A party given for them by a group of friends is attended by students and faculty from Columbia and New York University; Lead Belly sings and plays.

1935. January 3. Headlines in the New York Herald Tribune characterize Lead Belly the as the “Sweet Singer of the Swamplands.” Both John A. and Alan were very unhappy with the sensationalized account presented by reporter Lincoln Barnett in the tabloid. This article has been cited as the defining article that established Lead Belly’s fame.

1935. January 4. John A. Lomax and Lead Belly (wearing overalls and a bandana) perform at a concert at the Hotel Montclair for the New York Chapter of the Texas-Exes Association of the University of Texas (admission 75 cents), which is Lead Belly’s first real public appearance. John A. Lomax introduces Lead Belly as follows: “Northern people hear Negroes playing and singing beautiful spirituals, which are too refined and are unlike the true southern spirituals. Or else they hear men and women on the stage and radio, burlesquing their own songs. Lead Belly doesn’t burlesque. He plays and sings with absolute sincerity. Whether or not it sounds foolish to you, he plays with absolute sincerity. I’ve heard his songs a hundred times, but I always get a thrill. To me his music is real music.”15

1935. January 5. John A. Lomax secures a contract with Macmillan for a new book on African American folk songs to be based entirely on Lead Belly’s repertoire and biography. Lead Belly signs a five-year contract making John A. Lomax his manager and adviser; Alan Lomax is added to the partnership a few weeks later. During this period Lomax also contracts with Macmillan to write his autobiography (Adventures of a Ballad Hunter would be finally be published in 1947).

1935. January 7. Lead Belly auditions for Rudy Vallee’s NBC network show, The Fleischmann Hour, but is not asked to appear on the show. 
1935. January 8–11. The program managers of the CBS news program March of Time meet with Lead Belly and John Lomax about reenacting Lead Belly’s plea to Lomax to obtain a pardon for him. They rehearse two days later and on Friday of that week the show is broadcast live.

1935. January. John A. Lomax rents a house in Wilton, Connecticut, where the Lomaxes and the Ledbetters can all conveniently live away from the city and work on their book of Lead Belly and his songs (published later as Negro Folk Songs as Sung by Lead Belly). While living in Wilton, Alan and John A. Lomax interview Lead Belly extensively for the book.

1935, January 20, Wilton, Connecticut 
Huddie Ledbetter, vocal/guitar: 
143-A Don’t You Love Me No More 
143-B Henry Ford Blues

1935, January 20, Wilton, Connecticut 
Huddie Ledbetter, vocal/guitar with speech: 
45-B Salty Dog 
51-A Angola Blues 
51-B Roberta 
52-A Careless Love 
52-B C.C. Rider 
53-A Governor Pat Neff 
53-B Thirty Days in the Workhouse 
54-A Ella Speed 
54-B Ella Speed 
127-A Frankie and Albert 
127-B Frankie and Albert 
128-A Which Way Do the Red River Run? 
128-B Got Up in the Mornin’ So Doggone Soon 
129-A You Don’t Know My Mind 
129-B-1 The Western Cowboy 
129-B-2 Becky Dean 
130-A Fort Worth and Dallas Blues 
130-B Got a Gal in Town with Her Mouth Chock Full of Gold 
131-A Mary Don’t You Weep 
131-B-1 Mary Don’t You Weep 
131-B-2 Way Over in the Promised Land 
132-A Death Letter Blues 
133-A Midnight Special 
133-B The Shreveport Jail 
134-A Easy Mr. Tom 
134-B I Ain’t Bothered a Bit (Parts 1 and 2) 
135-A Boll Weevil 
135-B Western Cowboy 
136-A The Titanic 
136-B Blind Lemon Blues 
137-A Mr. Tom Hughes’ Town 
137-B-1 Mr. Tom Hughes’ Town 
137-B-2 You Cain’ Loose-a-Me Cholly 
138-A The Medicine Man 
138-B Red Cross Sto’ 
139-A-1 Green Corn 
139-A-2 The Maid Freed from the Gallows 
139-B Po’ Howard 
140-A Alberta Blues 
140-B Fo’ Day Worry Blues 
141-A-1 Hesitation Blues 
141-A-2 Take Me Back 
141-B Matchbox Blues 
142-A Tight Like That 
142-B-1 Gwine Dig a Hole to Put the Devil in It
142-B-2 Old Man Settin’ in the Corner Dyin’

1935. January 21. Lead Belly marries Martha Promise in Wilton with Alan Lomax acting as best man. Marriage ceremony is covered in the press. John A. Lomax announces he plans to entrust all of Lead Belly’s earnings to Martha so that she and her husband can return to the South and buy a farm.

1935, January 21, Wilton, Connecticut 
Huddie Ledbetter, vocal/guitar: 
44-A Irene 
44-B-1 Irene 
44-B-2 Julie Ann Johnson

1935. January 22. John A. Lomax and Lead Belly meet with the Carnegie Foundation. That evening they are invited to appear at a fashionable wedding reception. 
1935. January 23–25. ARC Studio, 1776 Broadway, NYC. Lead Belly makes his first commercial recordings for American Recording Corporation. Over forty songs are recorded over these three days and on two additional days in February and March, only six of which, all blues records, are released during Lead Belly’s lifetime. None is destined to sell very well; the era of country blues is over. “Goodnight, Irene” is recorded but not released. John A. Lomax and Huddie Ledbetter had been introduced to the American Record Company’s A&R man, Art Satherley, by noted cowboy singer and University of Texas alumnus Tex Ritter in early January.

1935, January 23, New York City 
Huddie Ledbetter, vocal/guitar: 
16683-1 Roberta (Part 1)
16684-1 Roberta (Part 2)
16685-1 Packin’ Trunk Blues 
16686 C.C. Rider 
16678-1 Becky Deem, She Was a Gamblin’ Girl 
16688-2 Honey, I’m All Out and Down 
16689-2 Four Day Worry Blues 
16690 You Can’t Lose Me, Charlie 
16691-2 New Black Snake Moan 
16692 Alberta

1935, January 24, New York City 
Huddie Ledbetter, vocal/guitar:
16693 Baby, Don’t You Love Me No More? 
16694 Ox Drivin’ Blues 
16695-1 Death Letter Blues (Part 1) 
16695-2 Death Letter Blues (Part 1)
16696-1 Death Letter Blues (Part 2)
16696-2 Death Letter Blues (Part 2) 
16697-1 Kansas City Papa 
16697-2 Kansas City Papa 
16698 Mary Don’t You Weep 
16999 Fat Mouth Mama 
16704 Red River Blues 
16705 Fort Worth and Dallas Blues 
16705-2 Fort Worth and Dallas Blues 
16706-2 You Don’t Know My Mind 
16707 Shreveport Jail 
16708 Angola Jail

1935, January 25, New York City 
Huddie Ledbetter, vocal/guitar:
16755 Julie Ann Johnson 
16756 Baby Take a Whiff on Me 
16757 Gonna Dig a Hole (Put the Devil In It)
16758 Old Chisholm Trail 
16759 Dem Blues I Got Baby (Make a New-Born Baby Cry) 
16760 Pick a Bale a’ Cotton 
16761 Lead Belly’s Pardon Song to Governor Pat Neff 
16762 Lead Belly’s Pardon Song to O.K. Allen

1935. January 30. John Lomax purchases a new Stella 12-string guitar for Ledbetter to replace the old one that he had brought from prison — the new guitar cost $16.80.

1935. January 31. The president of Hamilton College reads a story about Lead Belly in the New York Herald Tribune and cancels his booking with the Lomaxes and Lead Belly.

1935, February 1, Wilton, Connecticut 
Huddie Ledbetter, vocal/guitar: 
45-A Take a Whiff on Me

1935. February 5. Lead Belly has another recording session at ARC Studios.
1935, February 5, New York City 
Huddie Ledbetter, vocal/guitar:
16806-1 Daddy I’m Coming Back to You 
16806-3 Daddy I’m Coming Back to You 
16807 My Friend Blind Lemon 
16808 Mr. Tom Hughes’ Town 
16809 I Got a Mother in the Promised Land 
16810 Irene (Part 1) 
16811 Irene (Part 2) 
16812 Man, I’m in Trouble 
16813 Texas Penitentiary 
16814-1 Shorty George 
16814-2 Shorty George 
16815 De Kalb Woman 
16816 Matchbox Blues

1935. February 6. Lead Belly performs at a men’s organization in Garden City, New Jersey, introduced as a singer who plays and sings “folk tunes before a great variety of people, from large crowds of Negro convicts to scholarly audiences;” after hearing him, “two hundred men shouted for more.”16

1935. February 8–13. A March of Time newsreel is filmed, starring Lomax and Lead Belly as themselves reenacting their meeting in Marshall, Texas, the previous September. Lead Belly is filmed performing first in prison stripes and then in a suit, as he wished. However, when the newsreel is released nationwide, the scene in the suit is omitted. It is the second installment of the March of Time newsreel series.

1935, March 1, Wilton, Connecticut 
Huddie Ledbetter, vocal/guitar or unaccompanied:
47-B Blues I Got Make a New-Born Baby Cry 
48-A-1 Ho Day
48-A-2 One Dollar Bill Baby

1935. March 3–20. Lead Belly, now a celebrity, accompanies John A. Lomax on a lecture tour of colleges in upstate New York (Albany, Rochester, and Buffalo) and Massachusetts (Harvard University). During the tour Lead Belly goes out on his own at night singing in black neighborhoods, which he prefers to performing for college and school audiences with Lomax. Conflicts arise, and there is a scene between the two men during which Lead Belly pulls out (or displays) the knife he uses in playing his guitar. Because of this, Lomax decides to end their relationship and pays Lead Belly and Martha’s train fare back to Shreveport. The joint lecture/performance tour had lasted two weeks, from March 3 to March 16, 1935:

March 3, Wilton to Albany, New York. “Huddie played and sang for a group of Professor Harold Thompson’s friends gathered in his home . . . the following day we reached the University of Rochester, twenty four hours ahead of our schedule.”17

March 5, Rochester, NY. University of Rochester.

March 6, Buffalo, NY. University of Buffalo.

March 7, Buffalo, NY. “The next morning I talked ballads to the students of the Buffalo State Teachers College. At the end of the hour Lead Belly sang two songs . . .”18 
March 8, Buffalo, NY.

March 9, Buffalo, NY. Saturday night, the University Club of Buffalo

March 11–12, Albany, NY. Albany State College for Teachers.

March 14–15, Cambridge, MA. “Two days later he was greeted enthusiastically by two large Harvard audiences, one the Poetry Society of Cambridge, the other with Professor George Kittredge as the masters of ceremonies.”19

March 15, Wilbraham, MA. Wilbraham Academy.

1935. March. Wilton, Connecticut 
Huddie Ledbetter, vocal/guitar or unaccompanied:
46-A Governor O.K. Allen 
47-A De Kalb Blues 
48-B Ain’ Goin’ Down to de Well No More 
49-A Ha-Ha This-a-Way 
49-B Alabama Bound 
50-A In Dem Long Hot Summer Days 
50-B Go Down, Old Hannah 
144-A I’m All Out & Down 
144-B De Kalb Blues 
145-A Ha, Ha Thisaway 
145-B-1 Dear Old Daddy 
145-B-2 Dear Old Daddy 
145-B-3 DearOld Daddy 
145-B-4 Dear Old Daddy 
146-A I’m Gonna Hold It in Her While She’s Young and Tender 
146-B What You Goin’ to Do with Your Long Tall Daddy’ 
147-A Dicklicker’s Holler 
147-B Billy in the Lowlands / Heah, Rattler, Heah 
148-A Frankie and Albert 
148-B Frankie and Albert 
149-A Send Down Your Hand 
149-B Shorty George 
150-A Shorty George 
150-B-1 Pick a Bale o’ Cotton 
150-B-2 Elnora 
151-A Ha, Ha Thisaway 
151-B Send Down Your Hand 
152-A Death Letter Blues 
152-B Death Letter Blues [fragment] 
153-A Where De Sun Done Gone 
153-B Bring Me a Li’l Water Silvy 
154-A Dicklicker’s Holler 
154-B Whoa Back, Buck, Goddamn 
155-A Billy in the Low Ground 
155-B The Grey Goose 
156-A Old Rattler 
156-B I’m All Out and Down 
157-A Frankie and Albert 
157-B-1 I Walked Her and Talked Her 
157-B-2 Billy the Weaver

1935. March 25. New York City, final ARC session
Huddie Ledbetter, vocal/guitar: 
17179-1 Yellow Jacket 
17180-2 T. B. Woman Blues 
17181-1 Pig Meat Papa 
17181-2 Pig Meat Papa 
17182 Bull Cow 
17183-1 My Baby Quit Me

1935. March 26. At 12:40 p.m. Lead Belly leaves New York City with Martha for Shreveport, LA. Thus, John A. Lomax ends his association with Lead Belly, which had lasted six months and eleven days, of which nearly three months were spent recording in the field; two in New York City and Wilton, Connecticut, on recording sessions, the book, and various lecture/performances; and two weeks on the lecture tour. Upon their departure, Lomax pays Lead Belly’s share of their joint earnings in cash and three post-dated installments made out to Martha. According to Lomax’s records, of the $1,500 (almost $20,000 in 2002) both men had earned from their lecture tour and from a $250 advance on royalties from ARC, plus $100 for the March of Time radio performance and a $150 partial payment for the March of Time newsreel, about $300 remained due to Lead Belly after deduction of expenses, which included cash advances made to him and to Martha and expenses for purchasing a new Stella guitar, clothing, dentist’s fees, etc.20

1935. April 6. Through Shreveport lawyer W. S. Johnson, Lead Belly sues John A. Lomax for an accounting and payment in full of his share of their earnings from the New England lecture tour, from the March of Time newsreel, and from the book advance, if any. The legal disputes delay publication of the book.

1935. May. Lead Belly hires a second lawyer, E. S. Pearce, to look into dissolving the management contract. He threatens to withhold permission to publish songs. Macmillan insists on a settlement of all disputes between Lomax and Lead Belly before book publication.

1935. May 22. Lead Belly, now residing in Dallas, writes to John Lomax, now in Austin, proposing reconciliation.

1935. June–July. Lead Belly hires a third lawyer, Joseph Utay, seeking to renegotiate the terms of his performance contract with Lomax.

1935. September 12. Suit is settled. Lead Belly accepts a cash payment of $250 from Lomax. Macmillan retains right to songs and is indemnified from further lawsuits. The management contract is dissolved.

1935. December 18. Lead Belly again writes to John Lomax asking for a renewal of their partnership. Lomax declines.

1936. Alan Lomax named Assistant in Charge of the Archive of American Folk Music at the Library of Congress.

1936. Lead Belly attempts a New York comeback on his own, under the management of Shreveport gas station owner John W. Townsend. He makes one more pressing for ARC. Townsend runs out of money and returns to Louisiana.

1936. March 2. Reporter Lincoln Barnett publishes an article in the New York Herald Tribune belittling Lead Belly’s reappearance in New York City.

1936. April. Lead Belly, in striped convict costume, appears in a live dramatic recreation of the March of Time newsreel story at the Lafayette Theater in Harlem. The show runs for several weeks (it is unclear how many) with several performances daily.

1936. Spring. Lead Belly appears in a revue at the newly opened Apollo Theater. The Amsterdam News announces the show but a critic for the New York Agegives it a bad review. The show is not a success; Harlem audiences prefer sophisticated jazz to Lead Belly's country style.

1936. Assisted by Alan Lomax and New York University professor Mary Elizabeth Barnicle, Lead Belly begins to carve out a solo performance niche singing at labor benefits and for school, camp, and college audiences.

1936–38. John A. Lomax serves as an advisor on folklore collecting for the Historical Records Survey and the WPA Federal Writers’ Project, under the direction of Henry Alsberg. As the Federal Writers’ Project’s first folklore editor, he directs the gathering of ex-slave narratives and draws up the questionnaire for Project fieldworkers to use. This work is continued by Benjamin A. Botkin, who succeeds Lomax as the Project’s folklore editor in 1938 and later becomes chief editor of the Writers’ Unit of the Library of Congress.21

1936. October. Huddie and Martha move to 431 West 52nd Street, New York City. In October or November they apply for public assistance but are turned down.

1936. November. Negro Folk Songs as Sung by Lead Belly is published; it generates publicity but is a commercial failure.

1937. April 19. Life magazine publishes a picture story on Lead Belly with the racist title “Bad Nigger Makes Good Minstrel.” The article mentions that Martha Ledbetter is serving as Lead Belly’s manager.

1937. Ruby Terrill Lomax resigns her teaching and administrative duties at University of Texas and embarks on the first of several field recording trips, serving as her husband’s driver and assistant.

1937. June 22. Huddie and Martha Ledbetter travel to Washington, D.C. to record songs for Alan Lomax at the Library of Congress. Lead Belly composes “Bourgeois Blues” and other topical songs, establishing himself as a protest singer in the burgeoning folk revival.

1937. June 22, Library of Congress, Washington D.C. 
Huddie Ledbetter, vocal/guitar or unaccompanied: 
993-A-1 Gwine Dig a Hole 
993-A-2 Polly-Polly-Wee            
993-A-3 Jawbone Walk 
993-B If It Wasn’t for Dicky 
994-A Last Night in the Evening 
994-B-1 Somethin’, Somethin’ Keeps a Worryin’ Me 
995-A Monkey Men 
995-B-1 I Ain’t Gonna Ring Dem Yallow Women’s Do’ Bells
995-B-2 Rock Island Line 
995-B-3 All Out and Down
996-A-1 Hello Central 
996-A-2 Raccoon up the Simmon Tree 
996-B An’ Goin’ Drink No Mo 
997-A New York City 
997-B Queen Mary 
998-A-1 Turn Your Radio On 
998-A-2 Julie Ann Johnson 
998-B-1 The Hindenburg Disaster 
998-B-2 The Hindenburg Disaster

1937. August 12. Richard Wright publishes an article in the Communist Daily Worker about Lead Belly, extolling him as a “People’s Artist.” In contrast, he characterizes John A. Lomax as a stand-in for the exploitative elements of the music publishing industry.


1938. December 26, Havers Studio, New York City. Recorded by Alan Lomax.
Huddie Ledbetter, vocal/guitar:
2501-A Mama, Did You Bring Me Any Silver?
2501-B Leaving On The Morning Train Blues
2502-A-1 Scottsboro Boys
2502-A-2 Outshine The Sun
2502-B-1 Noted Rider Blues
2502-B-2 The Bourgeouis Blues
2503-A-1 Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen
2503-A-2 Little John Henry
2503-B John Henry
2504-A John Henry
2504-B Eva

1939. March 5. Lead Belly jailed at Rikers Island for assault.

1939. Upon Lead Belly’s release on bail, Alan Lomax arranges for him to record for the classical music label, Musicraft, to raise money for his legal expenses. The album garners a posthumous Grammy for Lead Belly (1998).

1939. March 31–June 14. John A. Lomax and Ruby Terrill Lomax undertake their second field trip through the American South for the Library of Congress.

1939. Martha Promise’s teenaged niece, Queen “Tiny” Robinson, daughter of Martha’s sister Mary, comes to live with the Ledbetters while pursuing her career as a dancer. She takes an interest in Lead Belly’s career, later becoming his advocate in his relations with record producer Moses Asch of Folkways Records and others.
1940. February 22. Lead Belly records for Mary Elizabeth Barnicle and Tillman Cadle.

1940. March 3. Actor Will Geer organizes a “Grapes of Wrath Evening” to benefit the John Steinbeck Committee for Agricultural Workers at the 48th Street Theater featuring, among others, Huddie Ledbetter, Alan and Bess Lomax, Aunt Molly Jackson, the Golden Gate Quartet, Woody Guthrie, Burl Ives, and Pete Seeger (making his debut). It is a pivotal moment in the urban folk revival movement. It is at this show that Alan Lomax first meets Woody Guthrie. 

1940. August–September. Lead Belly performs in a marathon recording session with Alan Lomax at the Library of Congress. In September, Lead Belly debuts as a radio host on WNYC in a show produced by Henrietta Yurchenco. Alan Lomax also persuades RCA Victor to record Lead Belly backed by The Golden Gate Quartet.

1940, August 23, Washington, D.C. 
Huddie Ledbetter, vocal/guitar/unaccompanied speech; Alan Lomax, speech:
4469-A-(a) Monologue on T.B. 
4469-A-1 Last Night in the Evening 
4469-A-2 T.B. Blues 
4469-A-3 How Long? 
4469-A-4 When the Train Comes Along 
4469-B-(a) Monologue on Square Dances (or) Sooky Jumps 
4469-B-1 Po’ Howard 
4469-B-2 Dance Calls (including “A Dollar Bill: Baby Won’t You Buy Any Shoes”) 
4469-B-3 Gwine Dig a Hole to Put the Devil in It 
4469-B-4 Tight Like That 
4469-B-5 Green Corn 
4470-A-(a) Monologue On (The) Blues 
4470-A-1 Sail On, Little Girl 
4470-A-2 Red Cross Sto’ 
4470-B-(a) Monologue on the Mourner’s Bench 
4470-B-1 Hallelujah 
4470-B-2 Backslider, Fare You Well 
4470-B-3 Amazing Grace 
4470-B-4 Must I Be Carried to the Sky on Flowered Beds of Ease? 
4470-B-5 Amazing Grace 
4470-B-6 Down in the Valley to Pray 
447 I-A-1 Meeting at the Building 
4471-A-2 When That Train Comes Along 
4471-A-3 The Blood Done Signed My Name 
4471-A-4 Witness for My Lord 
4471-A-5 Outshine the Sun 
4471-B-1 Let It Shine On Me 
4471-B-2 Way Over in the Promised Land 
4471-B-3 Oh, Something on My Mind 
4471-B-4 How Long? 
4471-B-5 Swing Low, Sweet Chariot 
4471-B-6 Ain’t Goin’ Study War No More 
4471-B-7 Join the Band 
4471-B-8 Old Time Religion 
4471-B-9 Stand Your Test In Judgment 
4471-B-10 Must I Be Carried To the Sky On Flowered Beds of Ease? 
4472-A-1 Run, Sinners 
4472-A-2 Ride On 
4472-A-3 Prayer 
4472-A-4 Christmas 
4472-A-5 John Henry 
4472-B-1 John Hardy 
4472-B-2 Howard Hughes 
4472-B-3 Bottle Up and Go 
4472-B-4 Cowboy Song 
4473-A-1 Leaving Blues 
4473-A-2 The Roosevelt Song 
4473-A-3 The Scottsboro Boys 
4473-A-4 Don’t You Love Me No More? 
4473-B-1 Noted Rider Blues 
4473-B-2 The Gallows Song 
4473-B-3 So Doggone Soon 
4473-B-4 Ham and Eggs 
4473-B-5 Bottle Up and Go [fragment]

1940, November 18, New York City 
From the WABC radio show acetate “Back Where I Come From.”  
Huddie Ledbetter, vocal/guitar: 
Ace 381 Ella Speed

1941. January 19. Washington D.C. Ledbetter attends the inauguration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, at which the Golden Gate Quartet performs.

1941. January, New York City or Washington, D.C.
Office of War Information radio broadcast  
Huddie Ledbetter, vocal/guitar; Golden Gate Quartet (Willie Johnson, Henry Owens, Clyde Reddick, Orlandus Wilson): 
E 3685 Alabama Bound
On a Monday
Gray Goose

1941. John A. Lomax, Alan Lomax, and distinguished American composer Ruth Crawford Seeger publish Our Singing Country (the Macmillan Company, New York). Today it is considered the best book from a scholarly and musical point of view that the Lomaxes had written up to that time.

1941. May and July. Lead Belly begins to record on the Asch label for Moses Asch.

1941. Smoky Mountain Ballads, a set of 78s selected and annotated with autobiographical notes by John A. Lomax, is published by RCA Victor. The album includes the Carter Family, Uncle Dave Macon, and the Monroe Brothers singing such songs as “East Virginia Blues,” “Worried Man Blues,” “Down in the Willow Garden,” and “Darling Corey,” which later became staples of the folk revival repertoire.

1944–1945. Lead Belly makes an extended visit to the West Coast to explore acting opportunities. He makes his base in Los Angeles, where for a short time he has a radio program on WKRE and performs locally in Los Angeles and along the West Coast from San Diego to San Francisco.
1944. July. Through folk song fan Tex Ritter, now a film and broadcasting star, Lead Belly records twelve 78rpm sides for Capitol Records.

1945. Lead Belly travels to San Francisco where he performs in coffee houses, at parties, fundraisers, and for school audiences.

1945. February. Paramount options John A. Lomax’s projected autobiography, Adventures of a Ballad Hunter, with Bing Crosby to star as Lomax and Josh White as Lead Belly. The film is never made but Lead Belly stays in California until the end of the year, hoping to be involved in the project.

1946. Folk Song U.S.A. by John A. and Alan Lomax, with Charles and Ruth Crawford Seeger as music editors, is published by Duell, Sloan and Pierce.

1946. Spring. In March, Lead Belly appears with Woody Guthrie and others in the first People’s Songs concert, organized by Alan Lomax at Elizabeth Irwin High School in New York City.

1946–1948. Lead Belly appears in the “Midnight” concert series sponsored by People’s Songs and produced by Alan Lomax at Town Hall in New York City. He also appears frequently at the Village Vanguard in New York City and on the college circuit, emceed at one point by Studs Terkel. In December, 1946, he travels to perform at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

1947. John A. Lomax publishes his autobiography, Adventures of a Ballad Hunter, with Macmillan.

1948. January 26. John A. Lomax dies of a stroke at age 81 while visiting Greenville, Mississippi. From 1933 to 1941 he had recorded over 1,200 discs containing some 4,000 songs for the Library of Congress and had helped inaugurate the audio documentation of the narratives of former slaves.

1948. Lead Belly records 90 songs, some with Martha, for jazz producer and archivist Fred Ramsey on newly-invented magnetic tape. He also records a series of ten-inch LPs for Moses Asch on his newly created Folkways label. Some of these were reissues of material originally recorded for Asch on his previous labels (Asch, Disc, and Stinson).

1949. May 8–31. Lead Belly sets out on a continental tour to capitalize on European enthusiasm for blues and early jazz. In Paris he is diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease).

1949. June 15. Lead Belly performs a final concert at the University of Texas, twenty-four years after being released from prison in that state. He sings some songs collected by John A. Lomax, including children’s songs and “Rock Island Line,” uniting the two men at the end of their lives. He closes with spirituals, accompanied by Martha.

1949. July. Lead Belly receives an Award of Merit from the Oklahoma Folklore Society.

1949. December 6. Lead Belly dies at Bellevue Hospital in New York City.

1950. The Weavers’ cover of “Good Night, Irene” becomes a nationwide hit single.

1951. In September of 1951 the Macmillan Company allows the rights of the book to revert back to the authors, John A. and Alan Lomax. Around this time Alan Lomax contemplates a possible republication of Negro Folk Songs as Sung by Lead Belly with Elizabeth Harold Lomax as editor. She interviews Martha Ledbetter and advises Alan that John A. Lomax’s introduction to the book is problematic and would be perceived as offensive by progressive and black friends. The project is shelved.

1956. Lonnie Donegan’s version of “Rock Island Line” reaches number eight on the British pop charts, and the top 20 in the USA. In six months, “Rock Island Line”sells three million copies. Donegan and other British musicians perform and record many American blues and folk songs in a genre known as skiffle. This popular but short-lived musical style ushers in the British rock music scene.

1958. Alan Lomax signs a publishing deal with Howard Richmond to publish the written arrangements of traditional songs from the Lomax books: Negro Folk Songs as Sung by Lead Belly, American Ballads and Folk SongsOur Singing Country, Cowboy Songs and Other Ballads,and Folk Song: USA.

1976. Acclaimed African-American photographer, composer, writer, and filmmaker Gordon Parks makes a Paramount feature film based on Lead Belly’s life story from birth to his 1933–34 meeting with John A. Lomax. Since a wary Alan Lomax had declined to cooperate, the Alan Lomax character in the film is called “Tom.” Though well received by critics, Leadbelly fails to gain wide distribution. The singer’s family objects to Lead Belly being portrayed as a convict; his daughter Jessie Mae Ledbetter Baisley and a second cousin, John Ledbetter, sue Paramount for intrusion of privacy and defamation of character.

1970s (late). Distinguished actor James Earl Jones contemplates a theater piece based on the life of Lead Belly.24

1985. Alan Lomax founds the Association for Cultural Equity, for the purpose of preserving, disseminating and researching the world’s expressive traditions.

1988. Tiny Robinson founds the Lead Belly Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving Lead Belly’s legacy. Contact the Lead Belly Foundation at: P.O. Box 293, Brentwood, TN 37027. 
1990. May 10. Jessie Mae Baisley, Huddie Ledbetter’s third daughter, dies in San Francisco.

1991. December 6. Taleta Boyd, Huddie Ledbetter’s second daughter, dies.

1996. Alan Lomax retires due to illness. His daughter takes on the responsibility of his archive and begins to issue his recordings on Rounder Records.

1998. June 26. The U.S. Post Office issues commemorative stamps of four great American folksingers: Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie, Sonny Terry, and Josh White.

2000. Staff at Lomax Archive begins to research publishing history.

2002. July 19. Alan Lomax dies in Holiday, Florida.

2004. November 1–7. A celebration of Lead Belly is organized by the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH. The Lomax Archive contributes to the conference and to an exhibit at the museum.

1 Bess Lomax Hawes recalls that her father was so eager to make up for what he perceived as the deficits in his education that at one point he contemplated learning Sanskrit.

2 The quotation from the Lomax family papers at the Center for American History at the University of Texas is cited in D. K. Wilgus, Anglo-American Folksong Scholarship Since 1898 (New Brunswick, N. J.: Rutgers University Press, 1959), p. 160. Although the practice of folksong collecting, much of it inspired by the writings and activity of Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832), had been widespread, what is noteworthy here is Kittridge’s exhortation to Lomax to employ scholarly rigor in his methodology.

3 Poet, historian, and pioneering photographer Charles F. Lummis (1859–1928) had recorded Native American and Mexican American folksongs on Edison wax cylinders in 1903 and had published some transcriptions in his magazine, Out West. Lummis had attended Harvard and was a friend of Theodore Roosevelt. He and John A. Lomax exchanged correspondence.

4 John A. Lomax, “Unexplored Treasures of Texas Folk-Lore,” reprinted in Stith Thompson’s Round the Levee (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1935 (facsimile edition 1975), pp. 101–102.

5 Kip Lornell and Charles Wolfe report that Lethe may have become a Pentecostal preacher in eastern Oklahoma. Lead Belly’s second cousin, Irene Campbell, told them that the singer visited Lethe in Kansas City in the 1940s (The Life and Legend of Leadbelly, New York: Da Capo Press, 1999), p. 273.

6 Moe Asch interview with Tony Schwartz, quoted in Peter David Goldsmith, Making People’s Music (Washington, D.C. and London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1998), pp. 56–57.

7 Era was herself serving time for bootlegging in a New Orleans jail at the time that Negro Folk Songs As Sung by Lead Belly (New York: Macmillan, 1936) was being written. See page 149.

8 John A. Lomax wrote: “His last sentence had been for using his deadly knife,” but he added, “I had no fear of him. Only once [referring to their final quarrel] did I feel myself in peril. And then liquor was responsible,” quoted in Negro Folk Songs As Sung By Lead Belly, p. 35.

9 The chronology here is uncertain.

10 Nolan Porterfield, The Last Cavalier: The Life and Times of John A. Lomax(Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1996), pp. 293–94 and passim. The Folk Music Division had been started by Engel and Gordon in 1928. Its funding, from private foundations was precarious, especially now that the country was in the depths of a depression.

11 Porterfield, p. 332.

12 Porterfield, p. 333.

13 Alan Lomax later wrote that “In spite of his intense sympathy for the prisoners and a genuine concern for black welfare,” his father “believed in the overall beneficence of the Southern system. Indeed, at that time, in fact, there were very few white Southerners, and not many Americans, who held different views” (Land Where the Blues Began, p. 286).

14 The exchange ended with Gellert’s pronouncement: “Look for a complete liberation of all the Negro masses only under a Soviet America” (Porterfield, pp. 359-60).

15 Life and Legend, p.133

16 Life and Legend, p. 2.

17 Negro Folks Songs as Sung by Lead Belly, p. 53.

18 Ibid, p. 56.

19 Ibid, p. 59.

20 Ibid, P. 62.

21 Negro Folk Songs as Sung by Lead Belly, p. 63. John A. Lomax says that “Paying out nothing for board, lodging, and laundry, [Lead Belly] and Martha had spent ‘three hundred and fifty dollars in two months, when her four dollars had once supported them.’” The average family monthly income at that time was $150 a month. Lomax’s notes with lists of expenses are with his other papers at the Center for American History, University of Texas, Austin.

22 The collection comprises two thousand edited narratives now in the Manuscripts Division of the Library of Congress. The multivolume set has been microfilmed and published as Slave Narratives: Folk History of Slavery in the United States, from Interviews with Former Slaves in 17 volumes (St. Clair Shores, Mich.: Scholarly Press, 1976) and The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Publishing, 1972), edited by George P. Rawick. Anthologies containing selections from the collection include the Federal Writers’ Project’s Lay My Burden Down: A Folk History of Slavery(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1945), edited by B. A. Botkin; and Voices from Slavery (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1970), edited by Norman R. Yetman.

23 Twelve of the 60 songs and many of the artists on this list appear in Smith’s collection. In a 1969 interview for Sing Out Magazine, John Cohen asked Smith: “Where did you first hear of the Carter Family?” Smith: “I would think from that mimeographed list that the Library of Congress issued around 1937 [sic], “American Folksongs on Commercially Available Records.”Shortly after that, two Carter Family recordings, ‘Worried Man Blues’ and ‘East Virginia Blues’ were reissued on the album Smoky Mountain Ballads. That album would come to stores that wouldn’t ordinarily have Carter Family records.” John Cohen: “In that album John and Alan Lomax made hillbilly music respectable enough to have it sold along with art music and symphonies.” These recordings were evidently well known to folk song scholars, for Smith had heard recordings of Buell Kazee singing Child ballads at the University of California while visiting the home of renowned ballad and eighteenth-century English literature scholar Bertrand Bronson, who had purchased them as they were issued. Smith told Cohen that he had selected the songs for the Anthology on the basis of what would be of interest to scholars and to people who might like to sing them. See Sing Out (4/5, 1969): 2–6The editorial apparatus of the Smithsonian reissue of Harry Smith’s Folkways Anthology makes virtually no mention of Smith’s debt to John A. and Alan Lomax and other folk music scholars, such as Bronson, in influencing his choice of material, though Smith’s own notes and interviews freely acknowledged it.

24 Life and Legend, p. 287.