Sunday, June 29, 2008

Library of Congress immortalizes Elizabeth Cotten's plaintive 'Freight Train'

N.C. native's song enshrined

Barbara Barrett, Washington Correspondent, Raleigh News & Observer, 6/29/08

WASHINGTON - In the early 1900s, a black girl living in Carrboro composed a mournful song about a freight train, picking out her tune on a three-dollar guitar.
Elizabeth "Libba" Cotten would grow up to leave that guitar behind, to marry at age 15, have a baby and become a housekeeper and nanny for well-to-do white families. For decades, her work subdued the passion she once held for making music.

Her gift for music was rediscovered in midcentury. By then, she was a grandmother secretly plucking notes on an instrument that hung inside the suburban family home where she worked.

This spring, Cotten's folk song was named one of the most significant works in recorded history, joining the U.S. Library of Congress' national recording registry.

The album "Freight Train And Other North Carolina Folk Songs and Tunes," first released in 1958, joins 249 other recorded songs, spoken-word albums and political speeches honored for their cultural, historical or aesthetic significance.

Jose Antonio Bowen, a member of the National Recording Preservation Board that chose Cotten's album this year, says that if someone could listen to every recording on the registry, "You'd get a range of the incredible variety of what goes into making America great."

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