Elizabeth's song

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This picture book for ages 5 and up is based on the true story of Elizabeth Cotten, who composed the well-known folk song “Freight Train” at the age of 11.

Elizabeth was born in 1893 in North Carolina. She loved music and taught herself to play her brother’s guitar — but since she was left-handed, she played it upside-down and backwards. When her brother left to look for work and took his guitar with him, Elizabeth saved money from odd jobs and bought herself a guitar.

While the story ends with the composition of “Freight Train,” in fact Cotten was not “discovered” as a musician until much later in her life. According to the epilogue, from her mid-teens until her early 50s, Elizabeth almost gave up music — she was busy with work and raising a family. In the mid-1940s, by chance she got to know the folk-singing Seeger family, and they encouraged her to pick up her guitar again. She released her first album in 1958, at the age of 66.

After my kids and I read this book, we wanted to hear her music. We bought the album Freight Train, which includes her famous composition as well as other folk songs that she learned as a child.

You can buy Elizabeth’s Song from my Girls list.