Mississippi Prison Recordings 1947 and 1948

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.  

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Session Region,Country Date
Parchman 12/47 Mississippi, United States 11-12/1947
Parchman 2/48 Mississippi, United States 02/09/1948
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