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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Elizabeth Cotten's Freight Train

Just a pleasant diversion. Would anyone believe the rockabilly hit Freight Train was written by a black teenage girl? Elizabeth "Libba" Cotten began working as a maid when she was 13. She saved enough money to buy a guitar, taught herself to play and wrote many songs while still in her teens, the most famous being Freight Train. Cotten was left handed so her guitar was strung upside down. She had learned to play a banjo when she was 8 and had learned the banjo upside down. She developed a unique style of finger picking she called "Cotten Picking."
After her marriage failed Cotten moved to Washington DC and was employed by the Seeger family as a maid. She had given up playing 25 years prior but the musical Seeger family was fascinated by her unique style. During the 1950's Mike Seeger began making reel to reel recordings of Cotten's songs in her house and Freight Train was discovered. Elizabeth Cotten died in 1987 at the age of 92.

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