“Leadbelly? Huh?”

leadbelly
Huddie Ledbetter

When we graduated from our little grade school, we went to a large urban high school which drew from six elementary schools. Lincoln High brought a very diverse group of kids together for the first time. One of the schools was very affluent, but several were definitely working class. It was, for me, a refreshing chance to meet new and interesting friends.

One girl, Carol, became close and invited me over to her home on various occasions. She lived in a two bedroom, one bathroom home in a neighborhood which had been mostly torn down in the interest of “urban renewal.” But they had stopped short of the synagogue where her family, Russian immigrants, worshiped. Her mother, a waitress, always made me a cup of instant coffee and kept a can of evaporated milk in the refrigerator since I liked milk in my coffee. Her dad suffered from Parkinson’s and was a baggage handler for Greyhound. I mention all these details because it was such a dramatic change from my dancing school environment. There many people were rich and we were relatively “poor,” though my father was an attorney. It’s all relative, I quickly learned.

Carol introduced me to the music of Lead Belly on 78rpm records she had recently found. His voice was unlike anything I had ever heard, and I had trouble acting sufficiently enthusiastic as we listened. Still she clearly liked what she was hearing, and I liked her, so I agreed to listen to more. In a way I was back in my grandfather’s living room listening to “roots” (though we would never have called it that)music. He was the first of many singers she introduced me to. And then she invited me to a folk music coffee house–Cafe Espresso! More about that tomorrow.

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