Leadbelly was a monumental figure in the history of US folk music. He was "discovered" by John and Alan Lomax, in prison in Louisiana, where he was recorded on portable recording equipment. It is claimed by Alan Lomax that he was pardoned by the state governor, OK Allen after Allen heard his recordings.
Leadbelly subsequently toured extensively but ended up back in prison in 1939 convicted of assault. (He served four separate prison terms for his violent behaviour.)
After this last prison term, Leadbelly moved to New York in 1940 and associated with Woody Guthrie and the young Pete Seeger among others. His best recordings were made for Capitol records in California during the mid 1940s.
Leadbelly played a twelve string guitar and had a high clear voice. One of his best known songs Goodnight Irene, recorded by many artists, was a number one hit for the Weavers in 1950.