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Goodnight Irene by Leadbelly

Album: Leadbelly Volume OneReleased: 1950
  • This is a folk standard, meaning no one knows who wrote it. Leadbelly's version has become the most widely recognized.
  • Leadbelly, whose real name was Huddie Ledbetter, developed this while he was in jail for attempted murder from 1918-1924. It won him his freedom when the warden let him go after hearing this.
  • In 1930, Leadbelly was once again jailed for attempted murder. Once again, his music won him his freedom when John Lomax and his son Alan convinced prison officials to release him. John and Alan Lomax were anthropologists and music historians who collected songs to preserve in the Library of Congress. They led a successful campaign to free Leadbelly and got him released in 1934. Leadbelly continued to record, and although he never made much money, his music is considered a big piece of US history, as it describes the struggles of black Americans.
  • Most recorded versions are much more tame than Leadbelly's original, with the line "I'll get you in my dreams" replaced with "I'll see you in my dreams."
  • In 1950, one year after Leadbelly died, this was a #1 hit for the folk group The Weavers. Other artists to record the song include Ry Cooder, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, The Chieftains, Tom Waits and Peter, Paul and Mary. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
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Comments: 8

the "sometimes i live in the country" lines are most definately in the leadbelly version, or at least the one i have.Darian - San Antonio, Tx
The saddest thing about this song, was that the line "I get you in my dreams" was later changed to "I'll see you in my dreams" and became a number one hit by the Weavers after Leadbelly died. Sadly there is a great number of people out there who have been robbed of the sullen true meaning of this song.Tristan - Philadelphia, Pa
Actually, the "Sometimes I live in the country..." line was in at least one of Leadbelly's versions. I am sure of this, as I just listened to it not 5 minutes ago :) It is, to me, the most poignant lyric in the song.

Also, I it was Governor O.K Allen of LA who pardoned Leadbelly.
Bushrules - Houston, Tx
The Weavers add another verse to this: "Sometimes I live in the country, sometimes I live in the town, sometimes I have a great notion, to jump into the river and drown".Jerry - Brooklyn, Ny
i agree with Adrienne. actually Nirvana cover a few of leadbelly's song. in unplugged, they do "where did you sleep last night" and they did a few cover in the box set "with the lights out"Chris - Mansfield, Tx
"Goodnight Irene" didn't get Leadbelly out of jail. It was his "Governor Neff" song, which he sang to Governor Pat Neff of Texas, about how he'd release the Governor if their positions were reversed. Although Governor Neff had sworn never to pardon a prisoner, was so overcome by the song that he released the murderous Leadbelly. Hence the legends of Leadbelly's dangerous charisma.Peter - Toronto, Canada
My dad brought a Leadbelly album home from the library in 1963 and my mom and I thought he was nuts. Of course, with some living and heartache under my belt, I really appreciate Leadbelly. On a tv program about blues, they showed some photos and actually played a phono/tape of Leadbelly singing in jail in his stripes. I wish I could remember what the special was and what channel it was on. It was well worth the viewing for historical content as well as seeing and hearing this guy and how alot of his life was lived. All the old blues singers, followed by The Beatles, set the path for rock music of the 20th century.Adrienne - Santa Barbara, Ca
wow! so this song helped him get out of jail. amazingJanelle - New York City, Ny