Most likely you've never heard of Vera Hall, but if you've listened to Moby's mega-hit album "Play," and the song "Natural Blues," you've heard her astounding, haunting voice. Hall, who died in 1964, worked as a cook and washerwoman, not a professional musician, but she was one of the greatest folk-blues singers of the 20th century. From the late '30s through the '50s, she was recorded repeatedly by Alan and John Lomax, the famed ethnomusicologists, sometimes on her front porch, sometimes at a friend's house. John wrote that Hall had "the loveliest voice I ever recorded."
Hall has received little recognition outside of the small world of American vernacular music obsessives, partly because it's so difficult to find her music: The majority of her recordings are unreleased or unavailable, and those that are available are scattered across a variety of compilations, not gathered on any one release. An encouraging move in the right direction: On March 3, Hall was inducted into the Alabama Women's Hall of Fame in a ceremony at Judson College in Marion, Ala. The induction speech was given by my friend (and Audiofile illustrator) Gabriel Greenberg, who has been researching Hall's life for a few years now, and maintains the Vera Hall Project Web site.
This page has a number of free MP3s of Hall's songs available. The sound quality is poor, and some of the tracks are just fragments, but I recommend grabbing "Carrie" and "Down On Me." Better still, download "Another Man Done Gone" from iTunes.