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  • Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection

    Smithsonian Folkways Recordings is proud to present Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection – the first in-depth, career-spanning box set of songs, photos, and essays dedicated to one of America’s most treasured 20th-century icons (due out February 24, 2015).

    The 5-CD, 140-page, large-format book is now available for preorder at a special price and includes an instant digital album download. An exclusive poster/t-shirt package is also available.

    A companion to 2012’s GRAMMY-winning Woody at 100: The Woody Guthrie Centennial Collection, Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection chronicles the recordings of Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter (c. 1888­–1949) in 108 tracks over five discs, including Lead Belly’s beloved classics "The Midnight Special," "Goodnight Irene," and "Black Girl (Where Did You Sleep Last Night)" among many others. The collection also boasts 16 previously unreleased recordings, including four never-before-available original songs, and radio programs Lead Belly made for WNYC which can be heard for the first time since airing in 1941.

    Listen to a Sneak Preview, including the previously unreleased song “Been So Long (Bellevue Hospital Blues),” at

    The set also features many rare photos, among them an intimate portrait taken shortly before his untimely death from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) in 1949. It is one of the few known color photographs of the legendary musician.

    Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection was compiled and produced by GRAMMY-winning Smithsonian Folkways archivist Jeff Place and Executive Director of the GRAMMY Museum Robert Santelli. The collection is housed in a 140-page, large- format (12x12) book, with an introduction entitled ”A Man of Contradiction and Complexity” from Santelli and an illuminating essay, ”The Life and Legacy of Lead Belly,” by Place.

    In addition, The GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles, CA, is currently hosting an exhibition entitled “Lead Belly: A Musical Legacy,” which showcases a collection of documents and lyrics, as well as his signature 12-string Stella guitar (on display through May 2015). There will be more special events planned around the box set’s release, with details to follow.

    More info on Lead Belly:

    Lead Belly is “the hard name of a harder man,” said Woody Guthrie of his friend and fellow American music icon, who was born Huddie Ledbetter (c. 1888–1949). From the swamplands of Louisiana, the prisons of Texas, and the streets of New York City, Lead Belly and his music became cornerstones of American folk music and touchstones of African American cultural legacy. With his 12-string Stella guitar, he sang out a cornucopia of songs that included his classics “The Midnight Special,” “Irene,” “The Bourgeois Blues,” and many more, which in turn have been covered by musical notables such as the Beach Boys (“Cotton Fields”), Creedence Clearwater Revival (“The Midnight Special”), Led Zeppelin (“Gallows Pole”), Van Morrison (“The Midnight Special”), Nirvana (“Where Did You Sleep Last Night?”), Odetta (“Looking for a Home” tribute album), Little Richard (“Rock Island Line”), Pete Seeger, Frank Sinatra (“Irene”) and Tom Waits (“Irene”), among many others.

    Lead Belly recorded with Folkways Records founder Moses Asch between 1941 and 1947, capturing some of the most important recordings in the history of American music.

    Track List:

    Disc 1

    1. Irene (Goodnight Irene)
    2. The Bourgeois Blues
    3. Fannin Street (Mister Tom Hughes Town)
    4. The Midnight Special
    5. John Henry
    6. Black Girl (Where Did You Sleep Last Night)
    7. Pick a Bale of Cotton
    8. Take This Hammer
    9. Cotton Fields
    10. Old Riley
    11. Rock Island Line
    12. The Gallis Pole
    13. Ha-Ha This a Way
    14. Sukey Jump
    15. Boll Weevil
    16. Scottsboro Boys
    17. Governor O.K. Allen
    18. Governor Pat Neff
    19. There’s a Man Going Around Taking Names
    20. On a Monday
    21. You Can’t Lose Me, Cholly
    22. Keep Your Hands Off Her
    23. We Shall Be Free

    Disc 2

    1. Alabama Bound
    2. Almost Day
    3. Fiddler’s Dram
    4. Green Corn
    5. Sally Walker
    6. Bring Me a Little Water, Silvy
    7. Julie Ann Johnson
    8. Linin’ Track
    9. Whoa, Back, Buck
    10. Shorty George
    11. Ham and Eggs*
    12. Moanin’
    13. Out on the Western Plain
    14. Noted Rider
    15. Meeting at the Building
    16. Good, Good, Good (Talking, Preaching)/We Shall Walk Through the Valley
    17. Ain’t You Glad (The Blood Done Signed My Name)
    18. I’m So Glad, I Done Got Over*
    19. The Hindenburg Disaster
    20. Ella Speed
    21. Haul Away Joe
    22. Old Man
    23. Sweet Jenny Lee
    24. Jean Harlow
    25. Laura
    26. Queen Mary

    Disc 3

    1. Good Morning Blues
    2. Sail On, Little Girl
    3. Easy Rider
    4. Poor Howard
    5. Duncan and Brady
    6. How Long, How Long
    7. T.B. Blues
    8. Jim Crow Blues
    9. Pigmeat
    10. John Hardy
    11. Outskirts of Town
    12. 4, 5, and 9
    13. In the Evening (When the Sun Goes Down)
    14. Red Cross Store Blues
    15. Diggin’ My Potatoes
    16. Blind Lemon
    17. When a Man’s a Long Way from Home
    18. Alberta
    19. Excerpt from “The Lonesome Train”
    20. National Defense Blues
    21. Hitler Song (Mr. Hitler)
    22. Big Fat Woman
    23. Been So Long (Bellevue Hospital Blues)**

    Disc 4

    1. WNYC—Folk Songs of America—Lead Belly*
      1. Grey Goose
      2. Boll Weevil
      3. Yellow Gal
      4. Ha-Ha This a Way
      5. Leaving Blues
      6. Irene (Outro)
    1. WNYC—Folk Songs of America—Lead Belly and the Oleander Quartet*
      1. Almost Day
      2. Blues in My Kitchen, Blues in My Dining Room
      3. I Went Up on the Mountain
      4. Good Morning Blues
      5. Baby, Don’t You Love Me No More
      6. T.B. Blues
      7. Irene (Outro)
    1. If It Wasn’t For Dicky*
    2. What’s You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire (with Anne Graham)*
    3. Rock Me (Hide Me in Thy Bosom) (with Anne Graham)*
    4. Packin’ Trunk Blues*
    5. Leaving Blues
    6. How Come You Do Me Like You Do?*
    7. One Dime Blues*
    8. I’m Going to Buy You a Brand New Ford**
    9. Jail-House Blues
    10. Shout On
    11. Come and Sit Down Beside Me
    12. Red River*

    Disc 5 – Last Sessions

    1. Yes, I Was Standing in the Bottom
    2. Ain’t Going Down to the Well No More (Version 2)
    3. Everytime I Go Out**
    4. Go Down, Old Hannah
    5. Black Betty
    6. Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out (with Bessie Smith)*
    7. Stewball
    8. Ain’t It a Shame to Go Fishin’ on a Sunday
    9. Relax Your Mind
    10. Princess Elizabeth**
    11. Silver City Bound
    12. The Titanic
    13. House of the Rising Sun
    14. It’s Tight Like That
    15. Diggin’ My Potatoes
    16. Springtime in the Rockies
    17. Backwater Blues
    18. Didn’t Old John Cross the Water
    19. De Kalb Blues
    20. They Hung Him on the Cross (Version 1)
    21. They Hung Him on the Cross (Version 2)
    22. In the World

    *Previously Unreleased
    **Previously Unreleased Original Song

    This project was produced in coordination with the Lead Belly Foundation, The John Reynolds Collection/Lead Belly Society, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

    Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection | Smithsonian Folkways Recordings