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Elizabeth Cotten





Early Influences

Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten’s warm and intimate recordings and live performances inspired generations of artists, and her guitar prowess and musical inventiveness influenced countless other musicians. Cotten’s compositions have been performed by Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, Taj Mahal, and Peter, Paul and Mary, among many others.

Elizabeth Cotten

Elizabeth Cotten


By Gayle Wald

Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten (born Elizabeth Nevills in 1893) bought her first guitar with money she saved up as a 12-year-old domestic servant earning $1 a month in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The instrument, which she called Stella, cost $3.75, and it gave Cotten, who had been playing her brother’s banjo and guitar, a chance to develop on her own. A left-handed child, she taught herself by laying the guitar across her lap and plucking a single string. Eventually, she developed a technique that entailed playing the guitar upside down, her thumb sounding out the melody while her index and middle fingers plucked the bass notes. For these experiments in playing “wrong,” she received little encouragement. But she persisted because, as she later put it, “I wanted music so bad I could feel it.”

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Class of 2022
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