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Today in Blues history – January 5, 1895 – Elizabeth Cotten is born

by | Jan 5, 2021

Born in Chapel Hill, North Carolina on January 5, 1895. One of four children of George Nevills and Louise Price Nevills. At about the age of eight, started playing her older brother’s Banjo and, a little later, brother’s hidden guitar. When he was out she would pull the guitar from under his bed and set it flat on her lap.

At first she developed her picking pattern, with her left hand, then chording and then some of the easier part of Wilson Rag. She saved money and finally got her own guitar, ‘Stella’. To learn a new tune she needed only to hear it played once by other musicians around her town. Her brothers and sister could also play. Sometimes they would play homemade instruments around the house for themselves and friends.

In 1946 or 1947, when she worked in a Lansburgh’s department store, found Peggy Seeger, who was lost and brought her back to her mother Ruth Crawford Seeger.
In 1947 or 1948, started work for the Seeger family. a few years after, remembered that she could play guitar. She’s got Peggy’s guitar and, recalling how to play step by step. Started playing again.

Late 1957 to early 1958, recorded at a bedroom in Elizabeth’s home in Washington D.C. Mike Seeger visited about a half dozen times for the recording.
In 1958, released Folksongs and Instrumentals with Guitar (a.k.a. Negro Folk Songs and Tunes, now reissued as Freight Train and Other North Carolina Folk Songs and Tunes – Folkways)

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