Mudcat Café message #756201 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #8912   Message #756201
Posted By: Nerd
29-Jul-02 - 02:22 AM
Thread Name: Origin: Goodnight Irene
Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
One of the funny things about "Goodnight Irene" is that many of the Lomax haters (see the "Alan Lomax: Another View" thread) use the fact that John Lomax shared the copyright with Leadbelly as an argument that the Lomaxes were unscrupulous. Why should they get money for a song Leadbelly wrote? But Leadbelly didn't write the song, either. He was the one who told JL that he'd had it from his uncle, and his uncle confirmed it.

As to the story of the Lomaxes helping Leadbelly get out of jail by using a record sent to the's true, sort of. But the record wasn't "Irene," nor did "Irene" have anything to do with that incident. I say it's true sort of, because they did decide to try that strategy with the Givernor, and they did send a record, and Leadbelly did get out soon after. But, according to the Governor's office, the recording had nothing to do with Leadbelly getting out of jail. He was let out on a policy called "double good time" which allowed well-behaved prisoners out of jail early. But if they ended up back in jail, they had the remainder of their original maximum sentence to serve as well as their new sentence. In other words, it was a form of parole, not a pardon, and it was not a special dispensation from the Governor, just a routine working of the system. The point being that Leadbelly was not pardoned at all, he was still considered to be a convicted criminal, out on parole. (Apparently leaving the state was not a violation of double good time, because he went with the Lomaxes!)

It was Leadbelly himself who always told the story that the Lomaxes got him out using his song. One, he could well have believed it to be true. Two, it was great PR since it meant that not once but twice his singing had melted the heart of a southern Governor.