Elizabeth Cotten

Elizabeth Cotten Biography

Elizabeth Cotten (January 5, 1895 – June 29, 1987) was a self taught blues and folk musician, singer and songwriter from Carrboro, North Carolina. She developed her own style of playing left-handed by holding a normally tuned guitar upside down so she played the melodies with her thumb and the bass lines with her fingers. Her style of playing became known as "Cotten picking".

Cotten wrote most of her music in her early teens and earlier (she wrote Freight Train at age 11). After marrying at 15 and getting work as a maid she stopped playing music for 40 years. It wasn't until she was working as a maid for Charles Seeger, an avid music lover, that she relearned how to play the guitar.

In the 50s Mike Seeger began to record Cotten on reel to reel tape. In 1960 she began to play live for the first time, her first show was with Mike Seeger and she went on to perform with musicians such as Mississippi John Hurt, John Lee Hooker, and Muddy Waters. Because of the positive reaction Cotten began to write, record and tour with new material which she continued to do into her 80s. In 1984 she won the Grammy "Best Ethnic or Traditional Recording" for the album Live!.

Elizabeth died when she was 92 in Syracuse, New York.

Latest Music News

more news headlines »

Featured Links