One of America's Most Influential, and Unknown, Musicians

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Lead Belly, portrait. Music legend Lead Belly’s life and legacy are celebrated in the new Smithsonian Channel documentary, “Legend of Lead Belly,” premiering February 23.

Lead Belly has inspired generations of musicians: The Weavers, The Grateful Dead, Van Morrison, The Beach Boys and even Nirvana. And yet few people today know his story, and even fewer know when they are listening to his music. Born in 1889 into a post-war South plagued by extreme poverty, poor education, racism and a corrupt justice system, Lead Belly emerged as one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. His story is told in the new one-hour Smithsonian Channel special, “Legend of Lead Belly,” premiering tonight, Monday, February 23, and Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection will be released Tuesday, February 24. Lead Belly expert John Reynolds and singer/songwriter Valerie June, both featured in the film, discuss Lead Belly's legacy.