A National Heritage Award recipient in 1984, Elizabeth Cotten was one of the inspirational figures of the folk revival of the '50s and '60s.
A National Heritage Award recipient in 1984, Elizabeth Cotten was one of the inspirational figures of the folk revival of the '50s and '60s. Mike Seeger, producer of this Smithsonian Folkways collection, refers to Cotten's music as "parlor ragtime," as opposed to blues, and his distinction is well-informed. Cotten's intricate guitar style—captured here on 26 tracks—bears some relation to the Piedmont blues style of artists like Reverend Gary Davis, but it's evident in listening to this recording that her influences came largely from outside the blues tradition. Cotten gained fame during the folk revival as the author of the now-classic tune "Freight Train," a song she wrote in 1906 when she was 11 years old. Oddly, this song is not included, but the ones that are provide a faithful sonic portrait of Cotten, a woman who was, by any measure, a mighty fine guitar picker.—PVV