Born Elizabeth "Libba" Cotton in January of 1895 to a miner and a midwife in Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Libba started playing the banjo
at age 8 and then moved on to her brother's guitar
. Self taught
, she soon developed an upside down, left handed, two finger picking style and was able to play any song after only hearing it once. At twelve years of age she began working as a domestic in North Carolina. Shortly after she moved to Washington D.C.
where she married at fifteen and had one daughter, Lillie. Within a few years Libba became very involved with her church and would give up playing for the next 25 years.
While living in D.C. during a brief stint working in a department store
, Libba returned a scared little Peggy Seeger to her mother, Ruth. The two women struck up a conversation and Libba spent the rest of her life as the Seegers' domestic. Around this time she started playing again for the delight of her own grandchildren and the Seeger children.
(one of Libba's charges and half brother to Pete Seeger
) recorded Libba in 1958 for the first time when she well over 60. The album was called "Folksongs and Instrumentals with Guitar
" and was put out on Folkways Records
Cotton would go on to perform at various folk festivals, including 1964's Newport Folk festival
, and the Festival of American Folklife
from 1968 to 1971. Libba continued to record and perform through the 70's and 80's. She was awarded a Grammy
in 1985 for the best traditional folk music
recording and the National Folk Association's Burl Ives
Award in 1972.
In addition, she was the subject of a documentary entitled "Me and Stella
" that was made over a period of two years (1974 - 1976).
Elizabeth Cotton died on June 29, 1987.