Skip to main content
Libba Cotten's guitar

Libba Cotten's Guitar

By Marika Carley

The original article, published in Smithsonian Magazine, can be found here.

This worn guitar has some curious scratch marks around the sound hole, the result of its owner's distinctive way of playing. She was left-handed but always played a regular right-handed guitar, strumming it upside down.

The woman famous for that fingering style was Elizabeth "Libba" CottenĀ - a folksinger best known for the song "Freight Train," written in 1904 when she was just 11 years old. Cotten's signature song, it was eventually recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary, the Grateful Dead and Pete Seeger. But all of that didn't happen, and the general public did not get to hear it- or her- until the 1950's.

Click here to continue reading.