Elizabeth Cotten: Born 1893 – Deceased 1987

Widely remembered for her everlasting tune “Freight Train,” Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten was an American blues and folk musician whose impact can be heard within The Grateful Dead’s soulful strumming and Americana essence Bob Dylan. Recognized as a “living treasure” by the Smithsonian Institution, Cotten was a self-taught, left-handed guitarist whose unique strumming was later trademarked as “Cotten Picking.” After being discouraged by her church during her teenage years to discontinue playing what they considered to be the work of the devil, Cotten respected their wishes and put down the instrument. She went on to marry and have a child and would later on only occasionally play at church. It wasn’t until 25 years later that she would revive her love of the instrument. Cotten’s first album wasn’t released until she was 62 years old. Despite the late professional start, and due to the folk revival of the 1960s, Cotten toured throughout the United States, playing shows the likes of the Newport Folk Festival (“The Kingston Trio Lineup, Biography”). Prior to her passing in 1987, Cotten received a Grammy for Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording; she was ninety years old at the time.

Excerpt from article “Ten of Blues Influential Artists” by Victoria Shaffer on Guitar Girl Magazine

Martin Guitar post-humously released a limited edition 00-18CTN Elizabeth Cotton signature guitar to carry on Cotten’s legacy in music history. The 00-18 model was chosen as this model, as quoted in Martin Guitar’s newsletter from January 2001, Volume 10, The Sounding Board, “closely approximates the 00-18 Martins produced during the pre-war era, considered by many to be among the finest recording instruments ever made.” Cotten’s signature is inlaid between the 19th and 20th frets and a freight train pearl inlay commemorating the artist’s well-known single “Freight Train” adorns the octave fret.

Information provided by Martin Guitar

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