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Elizabeth Cotten - books

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At least my generation of fingerpickers has played her most famous tune "Freight Train" more or less to death, without knowing anything about Elizabeth Cotten. There are not too many women in the history of guitar playing. To my knowledge, Elizabeth Cotten and Maybelle Carter are the only two who have carved their names into the early history of contemporary guitar playing.Elizabeth Cottenissued her first record at age 62, and made her first public performance at age 68 – about the age most people will retire.

Elizabeth Cotten would probably have passed on unnoticed by the guitar playing audience, had it not been for the fact that she for a period of time worked as a house maid for the Seeger family. It is nice story how Elizabeth Cotten discovered a lost child when she was selling dolls at Landsburgh's Department Store in Washington DC. She returned the child to her mother. The child was Peggy Seeger, Pete Seeger's younger sister. Elizabeth Cotten and Ruth Crawford Seeger, the mother of Pete, Mike and Peggy Seeger, became fast friends and Elizabeth Cotten started working for the Seeger's. At that time she had not been playing for years. But she picked up one of the guitars in the house, and started to play. Peggy was the first to discover her playing. Elizabeth Cotten had ended up in the right place at the right time, and the rest is history.

Her playing style was unique. She played left handed on a right hand strung guitar, fingerpicking upside-down compared to how most of us play.

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