'That Blew My Mind': Raiding The Lead Belly Vault

February 21, 2015 10:59 PM

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The story of Huddie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter reads like a parody of the brutal bluesman biography: Kill a man, go to prison — twice — then appeal for a pardon in a song. According to the legend, Lead Belly's undeniable talent convinced Texas Governor Pat Neff to let him go.

"The states all kinda got ticked off when that story came out," says Jeff Place, an archivist with Smithonian Folkways. "They said no, no — he really got out both times because his time was up."

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