Leslie Riddle (1905 - 1980)

Updated: February 24, 2011

Folk and blues musician.

Born June 13, 1905, in Burnsville, North Carolina, guitarist Lesley Riddle is perhaps best known for his association with A. P. Carter and the Carter Family, which began around 1928. A. P. Carter was always searching for new material for the Carter Family, and one morning he returned to nearby Kingsport, Tennessee, to revisit John Henry Lyons, an exceptional African American guitarist. Leslie Riddle dropped by to visit Lyons.

Riddle’s guitar work, gentle voice, and repertoire immediately impressed A. P. Carter, and the two occasionally got together over the next several years. Maybelle Carter stated that she learned Riddle’s finger-picking style and applied it to their 1930 recording of “The Cannon Ball.” The Carter Family also learned “I Know What It Means to Be Lonesome” from Riddle. Perhaps most importantly, Leslie Riddle and A. P. Carter went out on several song-hunting trips together, an important example of the type of black and white interpersonal musical exchange that helped to inform the emerging country music industry.

But Riddle’s life consisted of more than his several-years’ acquaintance with the Carter Family. In many respects his life was representative of so many African American non-professional folk musicians growing up in the South in the first half of the twentieth century. He worked at a variety of jobs, ranging from cook to cement factory worker. A bit too old to serve in World War II and, in 1942, in search of more substantial employment, Riddle migrated to Rochester, New York.

Riddle continued to play music for a few years after he moved north, but eventually he stopped performing. In the early 1960s, folklorist-musician Mike Seeger, who learned about Riddle from Maybelle Carter, tracked him down in Rochester. Seeger encouraged Riddle to begin playing music again, and Riddle appeared at a few festivals, where he performed a wide range of gospel, blues, and folk-based selections. He made a number of recordings for Seeger, which were eventually released on the album Step By Step—Lesley Riddle Meets the Carter Family (Rounder, 1993). Riddle died on July 13, 1980.

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MLA Style

"Leslie Riddle," Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 2017, Encyclopedia of Appalachia. 23 Apr 2017 <http://www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=14>

APA Style

"Leslie Riddle." (2017) In Encyclopedia of Appalachia, Retrieved April 23, 2017, from Encyclopedia of Appalachia: http://www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=14

Cover of “Step by Step” by Lesley Riddle