Every so often I get an e-mail from someone trying to track down a particular song. I'll try to post them in this thread.
Here's a reader request I got a few weeks ago:
I keep looking for information re Rock Island Line, because a long time ago I heard a radio program that had a very old version of a woman, not Bessie Smith, singing it who was interviewed and identified as its composer. All I can find is the Alan Lomax info attributing it to Clarence Wilson in 1929. The recording I heard was old and wonderfully scratchy and when you listen, you know it's hers.
Thanks for getting in touch. I went back through all the recordings I could find of a woman singing this song. I found three versions by the black folk singer Odetta, who recorded it twice on record albums and was taped one time singing it on concert. But those recordings don't fit your description.
Then it occurred to me that maybe you had heard "Freight Train," which was written by Pete Seeger's housekeeper. When Pete found out she was a songwriter, he promoted her on television shows and elsewhere, and there were several live recordings of her performing the song.
Here's one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43-UUeCa6Jw
I've heard others in which she describes when she wrote the song, some 45 years earlier.
Hope this helps; please let me know if you find something along the line of what you were looking for, and I'll add it to the article - Paul