Monday, August 15, 2011

The Music of Louisiana's Angola State Penitentiary

It's been called the "Alcatraz of the South." Locals call it "The Farm." The Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola has been synonymous with brutality, suffering and executions for much of its 110-year history. There was a time when even the most hardened criminals were said to break down and cry when they were sentenced to time there. Yet as prisons go, it stands out for an entirely different reason: its music.

It was one of the first stops for legendary folklorist John Lomax and his son Alan (who was just 18 at the time) when they set off on a year-and-a-half long odyssey on America's back roads in 1933. They were on a mission to gather folk songs of African-Americans, specifically music born of slavery, and they wanted it in its purest form. The elder Lomax believed prison walls were a filter against what he considered the "polluting" influence of popular music.
Read more here.