Leadbelly (film)

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Wide movie poster for Leadbelly
Directed by Gordon Parks
Produced by Marc Merson
David Paradine
Written by Ernest Kinoy
Starring Roger E. Mosley
Music by Fred Karlin
Cinematography Bruce Surtees
Edited by Harry Howard
Thomas Penick
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date
May 28, 1976
Running time
126 mins.
Country United States
Language English

Leadbelly is a 1976 film chronicling the life of folk singer Huddie William Ledbetter (better known as "Lead Belly").[1] The film was directed by Gordon Parks, and starred Roger E. Mosley in the title role.[2] The film focuses on the troubles of Lead Belly's youth in the segregated South including his time in prison, and his efforts to use his music to gain release.


Huddie Ledbetter leaves his father's house just barely into his twenties and arrives at a brothel on Fannin' Street ran by Miss Eula, who nicknames him Leadbelly and has him play at the bar. For a while, she takes care of him until the police arrive, breaking up a party. Leadbelly and an old man escape via a train and Leadbelly buys a twelve-string acoustic guitar from the old man. Seeking work, he takes a job picking cotton. He soon leaves on a train to Silver City where he meets Blind Lemon and they start playing shows together.

At one show, a drunken man tells Leadbelly to keep playing, and threatens him. Leadbelly responds by smashing his guitar onto him and is arrested. He escapes from jail and leads a normal life until he and a drunken friend are playing around with a gun, and Leadbelly accidentally shoots him. He is thrown in prison where he is forced to work in a chain gang. When he tries to escape, he is caught and put in a box. His father arrives and tries to bail Leadbelly out, but fails. Before leaving, he manages to convince the warden to get Leadbelly a twelve-string acoustic guitar.

After getting the new guitar, he plays a song for Governor Pat Neff who reassures Leadbelly he will be set free. After he leaves prison, he returns to Fannin Street, sees it has lost its former glory, and he is reunited with Miss Eula. He returns to his father's home only to find that a new family lives there. A group of men attack Leadbelly and slash his throat. Leadbelly happens to stab and kill a man in self-defense but is thrown back in prison. John and Alan Lomax visit the prison and interview Leadbelly, having him play all his songs for them. After he finishes telling his life story, they tell him they will see what they can do about getting him out of prison. The film ends with a title card stating that Leadbelly was released from prison and pursued his music career.


Further reading[edit]

  • Kevles, Barbara. "The Marketing of Leadbelly." Cineaste Fall 2003: 34-35.
  • Boyd, III, L. Roi. "Exploring Gordon Parks' "Leadbelly": Thirty Years Later"
  • BTNews Vol.16, No.1 Winter/Spring 2006: 15-20.


  1. ^ Ebert, Roger (1976). "Leadbelly". Chicago Sun-Times. 
  2. ^ "Leadbelly". Visitbastroptx.com. 

External links[edit]