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Texas Jailhouse Music: A Prison Band History

Texas Jailhouse Music: A Prison Band History

texas jailhouse music book cover 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.

WBAPs 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 Holidays, 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.

Caroline Gnagy is a writer and musician from Lawrence, Kansas. She is the author of the critically acclaimed book Texas Jailhouse Music: A Prison Band History.  Her prison band research can also be found in the acclaimed book Country Boys and Redneck Women (University Press of Mississippi, 2016). Caroline also works as a contributing writer and music editor for a number of independent local and national publications. As a musician, Caroline has played many rockabilly and Americana festivals throughout the U.S. and Europe with her rockabilly group, the Casey Sisters, and her country act, Caroline Casey and the Stringslingers. Caroline has released several successful albums with both musical acts, and also appears in Beth Harrington's 2003 Grammy-nominated documentary film Welcome to the Club: Women of Rockabilly.