Huddie Ledbetter was born in January of either 1888 or 1889. He became a musician around the turn of the century and died on December 6th, 1949. Better known as Lead Belly, the folk music legend often wrote songs based on what was happening in the news, and late in his life, he composed one about the 1947 wedding of then Princess Elizabeth and the future Prince Philip.
Nearly 70 years later, the recording of this song will finally be released, included on the fifth disc of the five-disc Lead Belly: The Smithsonian-Folkways Collection. Stream it here, and hear the singer strum his 12-string as he describes a scene where “people was a-gathered round from all over town” and “on the night, she was looking bright.”
In a 1962 Negro Digest article, writer Carter Price cited the song as an example of how Lead Belly couldn’t fit tidily into the box constructed for him by “the left-wing world.” “Leadbelly was broadminded,” Price wrote. “He also composed songs celebrating the virtues of Wendell Willkie and came up with an ode on Princess Elizabeth’s wedding day. The trouble seems to have been that everyone saw a little part of Leadbelly, but no one saw all of him.”
The Smithsonian box set contains 108 tracks – 15 others that had been unreleased – and a book including large-format photographs and a introduction by archivist Jeff Place. It will be released February 24th and can be pre-ordered here.