Photo by Michael Greenlar | Words by Julie McMahon

Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten, a folk revival artist with deep ties to Syracuse, will be honored posthumously by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this week.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame announced Cotten would be honored with an “Early Influence Award” earlier this year alongside Harry Belafonte. The induction ceremony is scheduled for this Saturday in L.A.

Cotten is the self-taught left-handed guitarist best-known for “Freight Train” — which she wrote when she was 12 years old.

Photographer Michael Greenlar captured a portrait of Cotten in 1983, during her later years in Syracuse. She’s pictured in a train yard nearby West Fayette Street, in our featured Photo of the Week this week.

In its announcement, the Rock Hall said Cotten’s “warm and intimate recordings and live performances inspired generations of artists, and her guitar prowess and musical inventiveness influenced countless other musicians.” (Watch one example in the video below.)

Her songs were performed by Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead, among many others.

Cotten earned accolades for her distinctive left-handed, finger-picking style that made her “widely imitated,” but “nearly impossible to replicate,” according to the Hall of Fame.

Born in North Carolina, Cotten spent her last years with family in Syracuse. She died in 1987 at Crouse Hospital.

Cotten didn’t perform or record outside family circles until she was in her 60s. But she performed up until her death and won a Grammy Award at age 90.

In Syracuse, the late musician is honored at the Libba Cotten Grove, situated at Castle and State streets a couple blocks from Dr. King Elementary School. The city dedicated a statue to Cotten in 2012.

YouTube video


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