Inside the Texas State Prison is a surprising story of ingenuity, optimism and musical creativity. During the mid-twentieth century, inmates at the Huntsville unit and neighboring Goree State Farm for Women captured hearts all over Texas during weekly radio broadcasts and live stage performances. WBAP's Thirty Minutes Behind the Walls took listeners inside the penitentiary to hear not only the prisoners? songs but also the stories of those who sang them. Captivating and charismatic, banjo player Reable Childs received thousands of fan letters with the Goree All-Girl String Band during World War II. Hattie Ellis, a young black inmate with a voice that rivaled Billie Holiday's, was immortalized by notable folklorist John Avery Lomax. Cowboys, songsters and champion fiddlers all played a part in one of the most unique prison histories in the nation. Caroline Gnagy presents the decades-long story of the Texas convict bands, informed by prison records, radio show transcripts and the words and music of the inmates themselves.
About the Author
Caroline Gnagy is a music writer and musician based in Austin, Texas. She has served as contributing writer and music editor for a number of independent local and national publications. Since 2011, she has probed into the history of prison bands in Texas and other states and presented her research at numerous academic conferences. Caroline is currently working on her second book, about the lives and careers of female rockabilly performers from pioneers to the present day.
Table of Contents
Introduction: The Myth and the Music 9
1 Pitchforks and Baseball Bats 15
2 The Widow and the Reporter 27
3 You Be My Big Boss, I'll Be Your Man 47
4 Thirty Minutes Behind the Walls 67
5 Cowboys, Songsters and Fiddlers: The Rhythmic Stringsters 85
6 The Goree Girls: Songbirds of Texas Prisons 105
7 Minor Notes: Further Explorations of Thirty Minutes Behind the Walls 131
8 Keepin' that Rhythm: Texas Prison Bands Shift Focus 151
Appendix 1 Suggested Listening 171
Appendix 2 A Note on Sources 175
About the Author 191