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When did prison songs fade out?

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GUEST,ADalton 06 Jun 21 - 08:44 PM
Joe Offer 07 Jun 21 - 03:28 AM
Steve Gardham 07 Jun 21 - 09:54 AM
Joe Offer 07 Jun 21 - 11:25 AM
Steve Gardham 07 Jun 21 - 01:15 PM
Joe Offer 07 Jun 21 - 02:11 PM
Steve Gardham 07 Jun 21 - 02:36 PM
GUEST,ADalton 15 Jun 21 - 06:32 PM
GUEST 16 Jun 21 - 02:12 AM
BobL 16 Jun 21 - 02:38 AM
Steve Gardham 16 Jun 21 - 02:24 PM
Richard Mellish 17 Jun 21 - 04:52 PM
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Subject: When did prison songs fade out?
From: GUEST,ADalton
Date: 06 Jun 21 - 08:44 PM

Listening to "Go Down Old Hannah," made me wonder, does anyone knows when prisoners stopped composing and singing such songs?


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Subject: RE: When did prison songs fade out?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 07 Jun 21 - 03:28 AM

Interesting question to explore. In 1966, Pete and Toshni Seeger and Bruce Jackson produced a half-hour film titled Afro-American Work Songs in a Texas Prison (click). In 1956, Pete and Toshi did a Folkways album titled Negro Prison Camp Worksongs.

Also take a look at the Website titled 13 Great Prison Songs You Must Hear (click).
I see that the State of Mississippi (click) still has inmate work crews, and I'm sure many other southern states do.
Here's a Wikipedia article (click) on prison labor in the U.S.
I wonder if it's changed laws or alterations in work conditions that made prison work songs disappear.

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: When did prison songs fade out?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 07 Jun 21 - 09:54 AM

Still making em over here.


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Subject: RE: When did prison songs fade out?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 07 Jun 21 - 11:25 AM

Tell us more, Steve. Are they work gang songs like were prevalent in the US in the first half of the 20th century?


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Subject: RE: When did prison songs fade out?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 07 Jun 21 - 01:15 PM

No, Joe, just songs about prison life, mostly based on the well-known patterns. At six o clock the screw comes in etc, much like the bothy ballads tell about various farms, these complain about conditions in various prisons. They do tell about the work they are made to do but not out working in the countryside. Some are variants of American prison songs like '21 Years' and some even use the word 'Penitentiary' which isn't an English idiom.


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Subject: RE: When did prison songs fade out?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 07 Jun 21 - 02:11 PM

But Steve, was there a British tradition of singing  in  prison? And for that matter, what about work songs of prison inmates in Australia? The American prison songs tradition is parallel to sea chanteys and work songs, all situations where men worked together with hand tools doing heavy, rhythmic labor. There was a subset of "track lining" songs for railroad workers.

Come to think of it, I don't know if the Original Poster is referring to the songs you describe, or to the prison work songs I'm referring to - which seem to have been sung mostly by Black prison inmates, often with ties to religious songs.

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: When did prison songs fade out?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 07 Jun 21 - 02:36 PM

I think you're right. The OP seems to be referring to the chaingang songs but both types are common your side. I know of no examples of prison work songs in this country. All of the ones that started off on this side of the pond are either personal laments for the prisoner's situation or descriptions of prison conditions.

We haven't recorded our local prison song yet, but as soon as we lay the track down I'll post the text here. It's a distant variant of the well-known broadside piece, County Gaol.


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Subject: RE: When did prison songs fade out?
From: GUEST,ADalton
Date: 15 Jun 21 - 06:32 PM

OP here, and yes, I was referring to prison work songs. Thanks for the info, Joe!


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Subject: RE: When did prison songs fade out?
From: GUEST
Date: 16 Jun 21 - 02:12 AM

Life and regimes in prison historically very different in the USA and in the UK. Rules of silence imposed in UK prisons along with prisoners being given individual tasks to perform under a "Hard Labour" sentence would not be conducive to "Prison Work"/"Chain Gang" type songs.


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Subject: RE: When did prison songs fade out?
From: BobL
Date: 16 Jun 21 - 02:38 AM

The only prison song I know, "Winson Green Gaol", I learnt from a folkie copper. Don't know whether it was written by an insider.


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Subject: RE: When did prison songs fade out?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 16 Jun 21 - 02:24 PM

The song I referred to above 'Hedon Road Gaol' whilst it isn't a work song per se, it does refer to teasing tarry oakum and sewing mailbags and washing and scrubbing out.


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Subject: RE: When did prison songs fade out?
From: Richard Mellish
Date: 17 Jun 21 - 04:52 PM

Does The Big Lodgin' Hoose at Barlinnie count?


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