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Hole Notes: Cotten Picking — The Fingerpicking Style of Folk-Blues Legend Elizabeth Cotten

The following content is related to the November 2013 issue of Guitar World. For the full range of interviews, features, tabs and more, pick up the new issue on newsstands now, or in our online store.

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.