Elizabeth Cotten

Elizabeth Cotton Mural

Elizabeth "Libba" Cotten, born on January 5, 1893, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, was an influential American folk and blues musician. She taught herself to sing and play the guitar and left an profound mark on the folk music genre with her unique style and fingerpicking technique.

At a young age, Libba learned to play her brother's guitar. However, she played it upside-down and left-handed,  which created a distinct sound that became her trademark. Her musical talent remained unknown until she was discovered by the Seeger family, famous folk musicians, in the late 1940s.

In 1958, Libba Cotten released her first album, "Freight Train and Other North Carolina Folk Songs and Tunes," which featured her iconic song "Freight Train." The album gained recognition and earned her a loyal following, bringing her newfound fame within the folk music community.

I was just glad to get the Grammy. I didn't know what the thing was. It's the honor what I loved.

Throughout the 1960s and beyond, Libba Cotten's music gained popularity and was appreciated by younger audiences. Her fingerpicking guitar style, known as "Cotten picking," influenced many musicians, including Bob Dylan.

Despite her late entry into the folk music scene, Libba Cotten's immense talent and authenticity earned her acclaim and accolades throughout her career. In 1984, she received a Grammy Award for her album "Elizabeth Cotten Live!" in the category of Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording.


Throughout her life, Libba Cotten continued to perform and share her music with audiences around the world. Her kind personality and connection with her listeners made her live performances unforgettable experiences.

Libba Cotten's contributions to folk music and her innovative guitar technique left an enduring legacy. Her influence can still be heard in the music of contemporary folk artists. She remains an inspiration to aspiring musicians and a cherished icon of the folk music tradition. Libba Cotten passed away on June 29, 1987, leaving behind a rich musical heritage that continues to captivate audiences to this day.