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Elizabeth Cotten (1895 - 1987)
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Elizabeth CottenElizabeth "Libba" Cotten was Born in Chapel Hill, North Carolina on January 5, 1895. She started playing her older brother's Banjo at the age of eight. She soon moved on to his guitar. She was self taught and played the guitar left-handed and upside-down.

At age 12, Cotten began doing housework, as her mother had done. At the age of fifteen she married Frank Cotten, They had one daughter, Lillie. The family moved back and forth between Chapel Hill, Washington DC., and New York City where Frank found work as a chaueffer and later the operator of his own auto repair shop. In 1940 she divorced Frank and moved in with her daughter, Lily and her husband. Elizabeth had retired the guitar for twenty-five years, except for occasional church performances when, in the late '40s, she began plaing regularly again. It wasn't until she reached her sixties that she began recording and performing publicly. She was discovered by the folk-singing Seeger family after she began doing their cleaning. Her first recording "Folksongs and Instrumentals with Guitar," was recorded by Mike Seeger, in 1958.

Late in life, Cotten received many honors including: The National Endowment For The Arts National Heritage Fellowship Award in 1984, the same year she won a Grammy Award for Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording for "Elizabeth Cotten Live!" Recorded when she was 90 years old. In 1986, she received a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Folk Recording. In 1989, Cotten was one of 75 influential African-American women chosen to be included in the photo documentary, "I Dream a World." A road in North Carolina is named after her. Elizabeth Cotten died on June 29, 1987, at age of 92 in Syracuse, New York. Her influence is felt by many guitarists today.

"Freight Train," Cotten's most noted tune was written when she was twelve years old. It has long been considered an American folk song classic.

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Elizabeth Cotten DVDs & Videos

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Elizabeth Cotten in Concert 1969, 1978 & 1980 by Elizabeth Cotten 
$24.50 - DVD 13019DVD
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Freight Train will be a century old in the year 2005. Its author didn't quite live to become a centenarian herself, though she did win a Grammy (Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording for Elizabeth Cotten Live) when she was 93. Both the song and its author are inexorably linked in the minds of most anyone aware of either, yet this DVD vividly demonstrates that there was far more to Elizabeth Cotten and her music than Freight Train. This DVD presents three concert performances by Elizabeth Cotten recorded in 1969, 1978 and 1980. Recollections of her life and music are prompted in the 1978 concert by interviewer Mike Seeger, who played a major role in recording Cotten's repertoire. Mike is also close by in the 1969 and 1980 performances. From 1969: Freight Train, What a Friend We Have In Jesus, Ruben, Vestapol, Washington Blues, A Jig and Spanish Flang Dang. From 1978: Freight Train, Wilson Rag, Georgia Buck, Rattler, Spanish Flang Dang, Judy's Got a Rambling Mind, Mama, Your Son's Done Gone, Wreck of the Old 97, Jesus Is Tenderly Calling Today, Vestapol, Buck Dance, Oh, Babe, It Ain't No Lie, Ontario Blues, Mama, Where's the Baby and others. From 1980: Graduation March, Freight Train, Spanish Flang Dang and Shake Sugaree.

The Guitar of Elizabeth Cotten by John Miller 
$29.50 - DVD - GW819DVD (includes TAB)
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Elizabeth Cotten (1893-1987) occupies a unique niche in American finger-picked guitar. Composer of the perennial favorite "Freight Train", she taught herself to play left-handed on her older brother's guitar (which was strung right-handed), leaving her playing not only left-handed, but upside down as well, picking alternating bass with her index finger and melody with her thumb. Her musical gifts might have gone unknown except to family and friends had not a chance meeting in a Washington D.C. department store resulted in her living with and working for the Seeger family, who were excited when they heard her music and enabled her to record.
What then, is Elizabeth Cotten's sound? It is a beautifully flowing fingerpicked style with exceptional attention to the details of phrasing and voice leading. There is a strong improvisatory element too, because renditions of the same song performed throughout Libba's career are often surprisingly different from each other. This video includes rare film footage of Elizabeth Cotten performing all the songs that are taught and the accompanying booklet includes TAB/standard notation transcriptions and lyrics of the songs. 102 minutes.

Legends of Traditional Fingerstyle Guitar
$24.50 - DVD 13004DVD
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Traditional fingerstyle guitar is particular to its time and place, drawing heavily upon local culture, but allowing for personal expression and innovation. Each of the artists presented here is a master of fingerstyle guitar, whether two or three finger picking. With rare exceptions most were born around the turn of the century or in its early years. From the Carolinas, Kentucky and Tennessee to Texas, they fashioned a deeply influential manner of playing wrought from rags, blues, ballads, and native airs that permeated their times and gave impetus to any musician, knowingly or not, who picks a string today. Features Merle Travis, Doc and Merle Watson, Elizabeth Cotten, Roscoe Holcomb, Josh White, Sam and Kirk McGee, Mance Lipscomb, and Rev. Gary Davis.  

John Fahey & Elizabeth Cotten by John Fahey & Elizabeth Cotten
In 1969, Laura Weber produced GUITAR, GUITAR, a series of TV specials. These 30 minute broadcasts presented a wide panorama of guitarists playing jazz, folk, blues, classical and flamenco styles. Each show focused on the music and thoughts of one musician. In this video we bring together two of these historical shows. John Fahey has been called the father of American Primitive Guitar. His instrumental approach heavily influenced the playing of Leo Kottke, Will Ackermann and a whole generation of "new age" guitarists. In this video, John talks about his sources of inspiration, guitar styles and techniques and general thoughts on playing. Elizabeth Cotten was born in North Carolina at the turn of the century. She was a left handed guitarist that used a right handed guitar which resulted in a very unusual and intricate fingerstyle technique. This became known as "Cottecn-picking". In this video she reminisces about her childhood and learning the guitar. Includes free instructional booklet.

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