In 1949, Lead Belly had a regular radio broadcast on station WNYC in New York on Sunday nights on Henrietta Yurchenko’s show. Later in the year he began his first European tour with a trip to France, but fell ill before its completion, and was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Lead Belly was the first American country blues musician to see success in Europe.
His final concert was at the University of Texas in a tribute to his former mentor, John A. Lomax, who had died the previous year. Martha also performed at that concert, singing spirituals with her husband.
On December 6, 1949 Ledbetter died in New York City, and was buried in the Shiloh Baptist Church cemetery in Mooringsport. He is honored with a life-size statue across from the Caddo Parish Courthouse in Shreveport.
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