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Southern Prison Songs 1930-1960

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Southern Prison Songs 1930-1960
Southern Prison Songs 1930-1960

Southern Prison Songs 1930-1960

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About Us

The Lomaxes and other collectors of their time (and also decades later) found some of the most powerful vernacular music of the American South in the region’s oppressive and violent prison system. The songs they found there, John and Alan Lomax wrote, “or songs like them were formerly sung all over the South. With the coming of the machines, however, the work gangs were broken up. The songs then followed group labor into its last retreat — the road gang and the penitentiary” (Our Singing Country, 1941). Bruce Jackson, writing about prison song in the 1960s, explains, “Southern agricultural penitentiaries were in many respects replicas of nineteenth-century plantations, where groups of slaves did arduous work by hand, supervised by white men with guns and constant threat of awful physical punishment. It is hardly surprising that the music of plantation culture — the work songs — went to the prisons as well.” The tie-tamping and wood-cutting chants, field hollers, and the occasional blues recorded by Alan Lomax on paper-backed tape at Mississippi’s Parchman Penitentiary in 1947 and 1948 remain among the most vivid documents of this genre of African American song.

Latest Episodes

I’m Going To Memphis – Percy Wilson and unidentified prisoners

:: Title :: I’m Going To Memphis :: Genre :: prison song, work song :: Performers & Instruments :: Unidentified prisoners [vocal] Wilson, Percy (Buzzard) [vocal] :: Setting :: Camp B, Parchman Farm (Mississippi State Penitentiary) :: Location :: Lambert (Quitman County), Mississippi (United States) :: Language :: English :: Culture :: Southern U.S., African American, Mississippi :: Session :: Parchman 12/47 :: Date :: 11-12/1947 :: Reference Information :: T798.0, Track 1 (00:01:39) :: Original Format :: Reel to Reel :: Session Notes :: 1 – These recordings were made in late 1947 at the Lambert Camp at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, better known as Parchman Farm. Some were originally issued by Tradition on a 1958 LP entitled “Negro Prison Songs” and they are currently available on CD in two volumes – “Prison Songs” – as part of the Alan Lomax Collection on Rounder Records. [Source: Editor] :: Collection :: Mississippi Prison Recordings 1947 and 1948

1 MINMAR 1
Comments
I’m Going To Memphis – Percy Wilson and unidentified prisoners

Forty Miles – Leroy Grant

:: Title ::Forty Miles:: Genre ::holler, prison song:: Performers & Instruments ::Grant, Leroy [vocal]:: Setting ::Parchman Farm, Camp 7:: Location ::Parchman (Sunflower County), Mississippi (United States):: Language ::English:: Culture ::Southern U.S., African American, Mississippi:: Session ::Parchman 9/59 (Camp 7):: Date ::9/18/1959:: Reference Information ::T883.0, Track 10 (00:01:19):: Original Format ::Reel to Reel:: Session Notes ::1 – Work songs and hollers recorded at Camp 7 at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, better known as Parchman Farm. [Source: Editor]:: Recording Notes ::0 – Alan Lomax: “wonderful voice” [Source: Tape Log]:: Collection ::Southern U.S. 1959 and 1960

1 MINMAR 1
Comments
Forty Miles – Leroy Grant

Eighteen Hammers – Johnny Lee Moore

:: Title ::Eighteen Hammers:: Genre ::prison song, work song:: Performers & Instruments ::Moore, Johnny Lee [hoe, vocal]Unidentified prisoners [hoe, vocal]:: Setting ::Parchman Farm, Camp B:: Location ::Parchman (Sunflower County), Mississippi (United States):: Language ::English:: Culture ::Southern U.S., African American, Mississippi:: Session ::Parchman 9/59 (Camp B):: Date ::9/19-9/20, 1959:: Reference Information ::T886.0, Track 2 (00:02:47):: Original Format ::Reel to Reel:: Session Notes ::1 – Work songs and hollers recorded at Camp B at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, better known as Parchman Farm. [Source: Editor]:: Collection ::Southern U.S. 1959 and 1960

2 MINMAR 1
Comments
Eighteen Hammers – Johnny Lee Moore

Boats Up The River (fragment) – Camp 11, Parchman, Mississippi, September the 16th

:: Title :: Boats Up The River (fragment) :: Genre :: prison song, work song :: Performers & Instruments :: Unidentified prisoners [axe, vocal] :: Setting :: Parchman Farm, Camp 11 :: Location :: Parchman (Sunflower County), Mississippi (United States) :: Language :: English :: Culture :: Southern U.S., African American, Mississippi :: Session :: Parchman 9/59 (Camp 11) :: Date :: 9/16/1959 :: Reference Information :: T884.0, Track 2 (00:00:52) :: Original Format :: Reel to Reel :: Session Notes :: 1 – Work songs and hollers recorded at Camp 11 at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, better known as Parchman Farm. [Source: Editor] :: Recording Notes :: 0 – This fragment appears on the tape in the midst of a session Lomax recorded at Parchman’s Camp 7. No mention is made of this, and Alan credits the song to Camp 7 workers. However, at the beginning, Alan announces “Camp 11, Parchman, Mississippi, September the 16th” and calls out a name that sounds like “Floyd,” possibly refer...

51 sMAR 1
Comments
Boats Up The River (fragment) – Camp 11, Parchman, Mississippi, September the 16th

Almost Done (On A Monday)

:: Title :: Almost Done (On A Monday) :: Genre :: ballad, blues, blues ballad, prison song :: Performers & Instruments :: Lomax, Alan [vocal] :: Setting :: Unspecified :: Location :: Greenwich Village, New York City (New York), New York (United States) :: Language :: English :: Culture :: Southern U.S., Anglo-American, Texas :: Session :: Alan Lomax as performer I :: Date :: 1957-1980 :: Reference Information :: T1009.0, Track 9 (00:02:22) :: Original Format :: Reel to Reel :: Session Notes :: 1 – These are home recordings of Alan Lomax performing six songs. He gives a brief introduction to each song, noting the key in which it will be performed. :: Recording Notes :: 0 – Alan Lomax collected this song, summing up the black prison experience, from a prisoner in Bellwood County, Alabama, with his father, John Avery Lomax. “Take these stripes from off these shoulder / Take these chains from off my legs ?” :: Collection :: Miscellaneous Recordings 1950-1990

2 MINMAR 1
Comments
Almost Done (On A Monday)

(Look For Me In) Louisiana – Henry Ratcliff

:: Title ::(Look For Me In) Louisiana:: Genre ::holler, prison song:: Performers & Instruments ::Ratcliff, Henry [vocal]:: Setting ::Parchman Farm, Camp 7:: Location ::Parchman (Sunflower County), Mississippi (United States):: Language ::English:: Culture ::Southern U.S., African American, Mississippi:: Session ::Parchman 9/59 (Camp 7):: Date ::9/18/1959:: Reference Information ::T883.0, Track 8 (00:01:42):: Original Format ::Reel to Reel:: Session Notes ::1 – Work songs and hollers recorded at Camp 7 at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, better known as Parchman Farm. [Source: Editor]:: Recording Notes ::0 – Alan Lomax: “wonderful lyric voice” [Source: Tape Log]:: Collection ::Southern U.S. 1959 and 1960

1 MINMAR 1
Comments
(Look For Me In) Louisiana – Henry Ratcliff

I'm Goin' Home - W.D. Stewart

:: Title :: I’m Goin’ Home :: Genre :: holler :: Performers & Instruments :: Stewart, W. D. (Bama) [vocal] :: Setting :: Camp B, Parchman Farm (Mississippi State Penitentiary) :: Location :: Lambert (Quitman County), Mississippi (United States) :: Language :: English :: Culture :: Southern U.S., African American, Mississippi :: Session :: Parchman 12/47 :: Date :: 11-12/1947 :: Original Format :: Reel to Reel :: Session Notes :: 1 – These recordings were made in late 1947 at the Lambert Camp at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, better known as Parchman Farm. Some were originally issued by Tradition on a 1958 LP entitled “Negro Prison Songs” and they are currently available on CD in two volumes – “Prison Songs” – as part of the Alan Lomax Collection on Rounder Records. [Source: Editor] :: Collection :: Mississippi Prison Recordings 1947 and 1948

2 MINJAN 21
Comments
I'm Goin' Home - W.D. Stewart

I Been Havin' Troubles - Heuston Earms

:: Title :: I Been Havin’ Troubles :: Genre :: holler, prison song :: Performers & Instruments :: Earms, Heuston [vocal] :: Setting :: Parchman Farm, Camp B :: Location :: Parchman (Sunflower County), Mississippi (United States) :: Language :: English :: Culture :: Southern U.S., African American, Mississippi :: Session :: Parchman 9/59 (Camp B) :: Date :: 9/19-9/20, 1959 :: Reference Information :: T889.0, Track 5 (00:04:33) :: Original Format :: Reel to Reel :: Session Notes :: 1 – Work songs and hollers recorded at Camp B at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, better known as Parchman Farm. [Source: Editor] :: Recording Notes :: 0 – Alan Lomax: “holler – composed on the spot.” [Source: Tape Log] :: Collection :: Southern U.S. 1959 and 1960

4 MIN2018 OCT 23
Comments
I Been Havin' Troubles - Heuston Earms

Interview with Heuston Earms about singing and his time in prison

:: Title :: Interview with Heuston Earms about singing and his time in prison :: Genre :: interview, spoken :: Performers & Instruments :: Earms, Heuston [vocal] Lomax, Alan [vocal] :: Setting :: Parchman Farm, Camp B :: Location :: Parchman (Sunflower County), Mississippi (United States) :: Language :: English :: Culture :: Southern U.S., African American, Mississippi :: Session :: Parchman 9/59 (Camp B) :: Date :: 9/19-9/20, 1959 :: Reference Information :: T889.0, Track 4 (00:03:18) :: Original Format :: Reel to Reel :: Session Notes :: 1 – Work songs and hollers recorded at Camp B at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, better known as Parchman Farm. [Source: Editor] :: Collection :: Southern U.S. 1959 and 1960

3 MIN2018 OCT 23
Comments
Interview with Heuston Earms about singing and his time in prison

Stewball - Ed Lewis and Unidentified Prisoners

:: Title :: Stewball (I) :: Genre :: prison song, work song :: Performers & Instruments :: Lewis, Ed [axe, vocal] Unidentified prisoners [axe, vocal] :: Setting :: Parchman Farm, Camp B :: Location :: Parchman (Sunflower County), Mississippi (United States) :: Language :: English :: Culture :: Southern U.S., African American, Mississippi :: Session :: Parchman 9/59 (Camp B) :: Date :: 9/19-9/20, 1959 :: Reference Information :: T885.0, Track 2 (00:05:23) :: Original Format :: Reel to Reel :: Session Notes :: 1 – Work songs and hollers recorded at Camp B at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, better known as Parchman Farm. [Source: Editor] :: Collection :: Southern U.S. 1959 and 1960

5 MIN2018 OCT 23
Comments
Stewball - Ed Lewis and Unidentified Prisoners

Latest Episodes

I’m Going To Memphis – Percy Wilson and unidentified prisoners

:: Title :: I’m Going To Memphis :: Genre :: prison song, work song :: Performers & Instruments :: Unidentified prisoners [vocal] Wilson, Percy (Buzzard) [vocal] :: Setting :: Camp B, Parchman Farm (Mississippi State Penitentiary) :: Location :: Lambert (Quitman County), Mississippi (United States) :: Language :: English :: Culture :: Southern U.S., African American, Mississippi :: Session :: Parchman 12/47 :: Date :: 11-12/1947 :: Reference Information :: T798.0, Track 1 (00:01:39) :: Original Format :: Reel to Reel :: Session Notes :: 1 – These recordings were made in late 1947 at the Lambert Camp at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, better known as Parchman Farm. Some were originally issued by Tradition on a 1958 LP entitled “Negro Prison Songs” and they are currently available on CD in two volumes – “Prison Songs” – as part of the Alan Lomax Collection on Rounder Records. [Source: Editor] :: Collection :: Mississippi Prison Recordings 1947 and 1948

1 MINMAR 1
Comments
I’m Going To Memphis – Percy Wilson and unidentified prisoners

Forty Miles – Leroy Grant

:: Title ::Forty Miles:: Genre ::holler, prison song:: Performers & Instruments ::Grant, Leroy [vocal]:: Setting ::Parchman Farm, Camp 7:: Location ::Parchman (Sunflower County), Mississippi (United States):: Language ::English:: Culture ::Southern U.S., African American, Mississippi:: Session ::Parchman 9/59 (Camp 7):: Date ::9/18/1959:: Reference Information ::T883.0, Track 10 (00:01:19):: Original Format ::Reel to Reel:: Session Notes ::1 – Work songs and hollers recorded at Camp 7 at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, better known as Parchman Farm. [Source: Editor]:: Recording Notes ::0 – Alan Lomax: “wonderful voice” [Source: Tape Log]:: Collection ::Southern U.S. 1959 and 1960

1 MINMAR 1
Comments
Forty Miles – Leroy Grant

Eighteen Hammers – Johnny Lee Moore

:: Title ::Eighteen Hammers:: Genre ::prison song, work song:: Performers & Instruments ::Moore, Johnny Lee [hoe, vocal]Unidentified prisoners [hoe, vocal]:: Setting ::Parchman Farm, Camp B:: Location ::Parchman (Sunflower County), Mississippi (United States):: Language ::English:: Culture ::Southern U.S., African American, Mississippi:: Session ::Parchman 9/59 (Camp B):: Date ::9/19-9/20, 1959:: Reference Information ::T886.0, Track 2 (00:02:47):: Original Format ::Reel to Reel:: Session Notes ::1 – Work songs and hollers recorded at Camp B at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, better known as Parchman Farm. [Source: Editor]:: Collection ::Southern U.S. 1959 and 1960

2 MINMAR 1
Comments
Eighteen Hammers – Johnny Lee Moore

Boats Up The River (fragment) – Camp 11, Parchman, Mississippi, September the 16th

:: Title :: Boats Up The River (fragment) :: Genre :: prison song, work song :: Performers & Instruments :: Unidentified prisoners [axe, vocal] :: Setting :: Parchman Farm, Camp 11 :: Location :: Parchman (Sunflower County), Mississippi (United States) :: Language :: English :: Culture :: Southern U.S., African American, Mississippi :: Session :: Parchman 9/59 (Camp 11) :: Date :: 9/16/1959 :: Reference Information :: T884.0, Track 2 (00:00:52) :: Original Format :: Reel to Reel :: Session Notes :: 1 – Work songs and hollers recorded at Camp 11 at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, better known as Parchman Farm. [Source: Editor] :: Recording Notes :: 0 – This fragment appears on the tape in the midst of a session Lomax recorded at Parchman’s Camp 7. No mention is made of this, and Alan credits the song to Camp 7 workers. However, at the beginning, Alan announces “Camp 11, Parchman, Mississippi, September the 16th” and calls out a name that sounds like “Floyd,” possibly refer...

51 sMAR 1
Comments
Boats Up The River (fragment) – Camp 11, Parchman, Mississippi, September the 16th

Almost Done (On A Monday)

:: Title :: Almost Done (On A Monday) :: Genre :: ballad, blues, blues ballad, prison song :: Performers & Instruments :: Lomax, Alan [vocal] :: Setting :: Unspecified :: Location :: Greenwich Village, New York City (New York), New York (United States) :: Language :: English :: Culture :: Southern U.S., Anglo-American, Texas :: Session :: Alan Lomax as performer I :: Date :: 1957-1980 :: Reference Information :: T1009.0, Track 9 (00:02:22) :: Original Format :: Reel to Reel :: Session Notes :: 1 – These are home recordings of Alan Lomax performing six songs. He gives a brief introduction to each song, noting the key in which it will be performed. :: Recording Notes :: 0 – Alan Lomax collected this song, summing up the black prison experience, from a prisoner in Bellwood County, Alabama, with his father, John Avery Lomax. “Take these stripes from off these shoulder / Take these chains from off my legs ?” :: Collection :: Miscellaneous Recordings 1950-1990

2 MINMAR 1
Comments
Almost Done (On A Monday)

(Look For Me In) Louisiana – Henry Ratcliff

:: Title ::(Look For Me In) Louisiana:: Genre ::holler, prison song:: Performers & Instruments ::Ratcliff, Henry [vocal]:: Setting ::Parchman Farm, Camp 7:: Location ::Parchman (Sunflower County), Mississippi (United States):: Language ::English:: Culture ::Southern U.S., African American, Mississippi:: Session ::Parchman 9/59 (Camp 7):: Date ::9/18/1959:: Reference Information ::T883.0, Track 8 (00:01:42):: Original Format ::Reel to Reel:: Session Notes ::1 – Work songs and hollers recorded at Camp 7 at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, better known as Parchman Farm. [Source: Editor]:: Recording Notes ::0 – Alan Lomax: “wonderful lyric voice” [Source: Tape Log]:: Collection ::Southern U.S. 1959 and 1960

1 MINMAR 1
Comments
(Look For Me In) Louisiana – Henry Ratcliff

I'm Goin' Home - W.D. Stewart

:: Title :: I’m Goin’ Home :: Genre :: holler :: Performers & Instruments :: Stewart, W. D. (Bama) [vocal] :: Setting :: Camp B, Parchman Farm (Mississippi State Penitentiary) :: Location :: Lambert (Quitman County), Mississippi (United States) :: Language :: English :: Culture :: Southern U.S., African American, Mississippi :: Session :: Parchman 12/47 :: Date :: 11-12/1947 :: Original Format :: Reel to Reel :: Session Notes :: 1 – These recordings were made in late 1947 at the Lambert Camp at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, better known as Parchman Farm. Some were originally issued by Tradition on a 1958 LP entitled “Negro Prison Songs” and they are currently available on CD in two volumes – “Prison Songs” – as part of the Alan Lomax Collection on Rounder Records. [Source: Editor] :: Collection :: Mississippi Prison Recordings 1947 and 1948

2 MINJAN 21
Comments
I'm Goin' Home - W.D. Stewart

I Been Havin' Troubles - Heuston Earms

:: Title :: I Been Havin’ Troubles :: Genre :: holler, prison song :: Performers & Instruments :: Earms, Heuston [vocal] :: Setting :: Parchman Farm, Camp B :: Location :: Parchman (Sunflower County), Mississippi (United States) :: Language :: English :: Culture :: Southern U.S., African American, Mississippi :: Session :: Parchman 9/59 (Camp B) :: Date :: 9/19-9/20, 1959 :: Reference Information :: T889.0, Track 5 (00:04:33) :: Original Format :: Reel to Reel :: Session Notes :: 1 – Work songs and hollers recorded at Camp B at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, better known as Parchman Farm. [Source: Editor] :: Recording Notes :: 0 – Alan Lomax: “holler – composed on the spot.” [Source: Tape Log] :: Collection :: Southern U.S. 1959 and 1960

4 MIN2018 OCT 23
Comments
I Been Havin' Troubles - Heuston Earms

Interview with Heuston Earms about singing and his time in prison

:: Title :: Interview with Heuston Earms about singing and his time in prison :: Genre :: interview, spoken :: Performers & Instruments :: Earms, Heuston [vocal] Lomax, Alan [vocal] :: Setting :: Parchman Farm, Camp B :: Location :: Parchman (Sunflower County), Mississippi (United States) :: Language :: English :: Culture :: Southern U.S., African American, Mississippi :: Session :: Parchman 9/59 (Camp B) :: Date :: 9/19-9/20, 1959 :: Reference Information :: T889.0, Track 4 (00:03:18) :: Original Format :: Reel to Reel :: Session Notes :: 1 – Work songs and hollers recorded at Camp B at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, better known as Parchman Farm. [Source: Editor] :: Collection :: Southern U.S. 1959 and 1960

3 MIN2018 OCT 23
Comments
Interview with Heuston Earms about singing and his time in prison

Stewball - Ed Lewis and Unidentified Prisoners

:: Title :: Stewball (I) :: Genre :: prison song, work song :: Performers & Instruments :: Lewis, Ed [axe, vocal] Unidentified prisoners [axe, vocal] :: Setting :: Parchman Farm, Camp B :: Location :: Parchman (Sunflower County), Mississippi (United States) :: Language :: English :: Culture :: Southern U.S., African American, Mississippi :: Session :: Parchman 9/59 (Camp B) :: Date :: 9/19-9/20, 1959 :: Reference Information :: T885.0, Track 2 (00:05:23) :: Original Format :: Reel to Reel :: Session Notes :: 1 – Work songs and hollers recorded at Camp B at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, better known as Parchman Farm. [Source: Editor] :: Collection :: Southern U.S. 1959 and 1960

5 MIN2018 OCT 23
Comments
Stewball - Ed Lewis and Unidentified Prisoners
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