Smithsonian Collections

Huddie Ledbetter

Image for Huddie Ledbetter
Data Source
National Portrait Gallery
Exhibition Label
Playing his signature twelve-string guitar, Huddie Ledbetter was instrumental in introducing African American traditional music to national audiences. Known popularly as Lead Belly, a nickname given to him by a prison chaplain, he amassed a vast song repertory that ranged from the blues to early jazz and ragtime. Ironically, although a series of arrests in Louisiana and Texas almost cut short his career, they gave Ledbetter the break that transformed his life while he was in prison. In 1933, Ledbetter met folklorist John Lomax, who was traveling through the South recording folk songs from inmates-among others-for a music archive at the Library of Congress. Lomax helped to secure his parole and then accompanied him to New York. There, Ledbetter became a star, performing and recording for large audiences, many of whom had never encountered such music before.
Sid Grossman, 1913 - 1955
Huddie Ledbetter, 15 Jan 1888 - 6 Dec 1949
c. 1946-1948
Credit Line
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Gelatin silver print
Image/Sheet: 42.9 x 35.2 cm (16 7/8 x 13 7/8")
Mat: 71.1 x 55.9 cm (28 x 22")
See more items in
National Portrait Gallery Collection
Object number
Music\Musical instrument\Guitar
Huddie Ledbetter: Male
Huddie Ledbetter: Performing Arts\Performer\Musician\Composer
Huddie Ledbetter: Performing Arts\Performer\Musician\Pianist
Huddie Ledbetter: Performing Arts\Performer\Musician\Guitarist
Huddie Ledbetter: Performing Arts\Performer\Musician\Singer\Rhythm and Blues
Huddie Ledbetter: Law and Law Enforcement\Criminal\Murderer
Restrictions & Rights
© Sid Grossman, courtesy of the Howard Greenberg Gallery, NYC