Hole Notes: Cotten Picking — The Fingerpicking Style of Folk-Blues Legend Elizabeth Cotten
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Folk-blues/ragtime guitarist Elizabeth Cotten lived from 1895 to 1987, but by age 12 she had already written the tune that would make her a legend: “Freight Train.”
It would take another 55 years before she would achieve status as a legend. Her long road toward that rank was as unique as her unusual left-handed approach to playing the guitar.
Before reaching her teen years, Cotten helped make ends meet by working as a maid. She married at 15 and retired from playing music to raise a family. By 1947, Cotton was divorced and working as a housekeeper for the musicologist/folk-singing Seeger family, which included children Peggy and Mike (folk legend Pete Seeger was their half-brother). Immersed in the family’s musical surroundings, Cotten began relearning to play the guitar as she approached the age of 60.