Musician Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten is well recognized in and around Syracuse, and is now being nationally honored with an Early Influence Award as part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 2022 class.

Some music listeners may not recognize Cotten's voice. But they might know others covering her songs, because the list is long.

“Peter Seeger, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Tah Mahal, Jerry Garcia, Peter, Paul and Mary,” said Bob Searing, Onondaga Historical Association curator of history.

Cotten's guitar can be found at the Onondaga Historical Association museum in downtown Syracuse. You’ll also find Searing, who will eagerly tell you all about Cotten.

“Libba Cotten is there as this incredible figure," he said. "You’d write a movie about a person like this, but you don’t have to because she lived it.”

Cotten wrote all her songs during childhood.

“I’m mean, you listen to the words and listen to the lyrics, you’re shocked that a child was able to emote that,” Searing said.

With the announcement of her induction into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, Cotten's name is all the buzz again.

Onondaga Historical Association

Left-handed, Cotten flipped a right-handed guitar upside down, developing a style of playing later coined “Cotten picking.”

But she didn't begin recording her music until her 60s.

She eventually moved to Washington, D.C., spending most of her life there before coming to Syracuse. She was named Syracuse’s first Living Treasure in 1983. She won her first Grammy at the age of 90.

“As a guy who has a guitar up in his office, it’s pretty cool to be able to hold this Grammy that Libba earned,” Searing said.

Her start began when she was hired to work for the Seeger family while in D.C. There, she played “Freight Train” to the family, and the song spread in the music community.

The song was falsely copyrighted by two British songwriters. The Seegers helped her sue for copyright infringement.

She started playing publicly in her 60s.

“Some people were put on the earth to do very certain things, and she was clearly put here to bring the music up from wherever it comes from the ether. She was just a vessel for it and we’re lucky to have her here,” Searing said.