Over 125 years ago, Lead Belly was an American Folk and Blues musician known for his strong vocals and twelve-string guitar. His musicianship is credited with influencing generations of artists, even today. Even with recent notoriety, that includes a Smithsonian exhibit and boxed-CD-set, many local Nashvillians are not aware of our local connection to this legend. Moderator Levon Williams and panelists Tanya Singh, James Robinson, and Greg Reish discussed Lead Belly’s legacy and impact on the music industry.
Levon Williams plays a vital role in a multi-year-project defining curatorial needs, evaluation and collection along with interpretation and execution of traditional and non-traditional methods. Williams recently served as interpretive specialist and curator at The Stax Museum of American Soul Music where he led core initiatives to define institutional direction. Prior experience includes progressive leadership roles at both the Archives of African American Music & Culture and The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Williams earned his bachelor’s from Purdue University and his master’s from Indiana University.
Gregory Reish, Director of the Center for Popular Music (CPM) and professor teaching Music History at MTSU, is a scholar, teacher, and performing musician with expertise in a wide range of American vernacular styles. He earned a BM in jazz guitar from The University of Miami, and an MA and PhD in historical musicology from The University of Georgia. Reish received a Fulbright scholarship to Italy for his groundbreaking research on the Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi, about whom Reish has published several articles and book chapters. In addition to his scholarship, Reish remains an active and accomplished performer of bluegrass, old-time, and related musical styles. As a noted singer and multi-instrumentalist (guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, ukulele, dulcimer, harmonica) he has performed across much of the United States and in 2007 made a six-city solo tour of Japan. He believes strongly in the intersection of musical scholarship and performance, and is well-known for his engaging lecture-recitals, workshops, and other historically thematic programs.
James Robinson is the husband of Tiny Robinson, the niece of Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter. He started his career as one of the members of the gospel group, the Lunenburg Travelers. After many years spent living in New York he retired to Tennessee to be closer to family. Today, when he is not promoting the legacy of Lead Belly, he acts as a board member for the Lead Belly Foundation. The Foundation was launched to preserve and promote the historical legacy of Lead Belly by supporting young musicians through educational and sponsorships programs.
Tanya R. Singh is the Executive Director of the Lead Belly Foundation, leading the philanthropic organization for the past ten years. She runs the foundation in honor of her Great-Great Uncle, the Blues Legend Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter. The foundation was founded by her grandmother, Queen Robinson to continue the musical legacy of Lead Belly. She’s continued the legacy through speaking engagements and working in the blues community partnering with other musical acts and arts organizations. Ms. Singh created a scholarship for youth to promote musical learning through music lessons with vetted music teachers. She produced the the first annual Lead Belly Blues and Folk Festival in Shreveport, LA, near Lead Belly’s birthplace of Mooringsport, LA. Through the foundation she began to handle the music royalty and licensing for the Lead Belly Estate. Prior to the directorship over the foundation, she attended Middle Tennessee State University, pursuing a career in Medicine until she was introduced to the music industry. She began her career in the music industry working for Al Hamon Entertainment. Shortly after, she began working with R.L. Byrd and Associates as an Assistant Tour and Production Manager, working directly with large national acts like Mary J. Blige, OutKast, Jay-Z, Cash Money Millionaires (Lil Wayne), and Ruff Rydaz (DMX and Eve). Ms. Singh serves on the boards of the Boys and Girls Club of Rutherford County, W.O. Smith School of Music, and JPJ Foundation. She is currently working on a children’s book about her uncle Lead Belly.