Watch Lead Belly Serenade His Wife with ‘Goodnight Irene’ in 1935

Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly.

Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter (1888-1949) is one of America’s most influential blues and folk musicians. With his booming 12-string guitar, immense repertoire, and poignant lyrics, Lead Belly’s music has been the touchstone and inspiration for countless artists.

Here he serenades his wife, Martha Promise, (as well as a room of adoring and well-dressed fans) with his signature song “Goodnight Irene.”


Lead Belly expert Kip Lornell thinks this footage is from March/April 1935, shot in Wilton, Connecticut — probably at the home of friends of folklorists John and Alan Lomax, who were friends of Lead Belly’s, and recorded his songs with the help of the Library of Congress.

For more trips down guitar memory lane, check out previous Throwback Thursdays.

Anna Pulley
Anna Pulley