Clifford Murphy, American Studies, in The Conversation

In February, Smithsonian Folkways released Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection, a box set and book dedicated to Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter – an influential country musician in the early twentieth century. Clifford Murphy, an ethnomusicologist and adjunct lecturer of American studies, published an article in The Conversation which examined Lead Belly’s legacy and lasting cultural impact.

Clifford Murphy

“But beyond his influence on (mainly white) musical artists, the collection is significant because it shows how Lead Belly defied the racial categories of blues and country (as black music and white music, respectively) – stereotypes established by the burgeoning record industry of the Jim Crow era that persist today,” Murphy wrote.

In the article, Murphy honored Lead Belly’s influential musical legacy an analyzed the cultural context in which he performed.

“Thankfully, Lead Belly’s Smithsonian Folkways Collection defies those cultural reductionists who would suggest that firm racial categories of blues and country ever truly existed, and that “traditional” singers were uninterested in – or, worse, corrupted by – popular music. The set’s 108 tracks may be a small sampling (Lead Belly claimed to be able to sing 500 songs without repeating one – and he likely knew far more). But a bi-cultural reality glimmers within the set’s five CDs,” Murphy added.

To read the full article titled “Lead Belly’s music defied racial categorization,” click here.