A band from the Louisiana State Penitentiary performs at a Dale Carnegie Banquet, date unknown. Courtesy of Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola Museum

Angola Hosts Concert and Symposium

In the summer of 1932 John and Alan Lomax visited the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola to record songs for the Library of Congress. The father-son team met Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter, a singer and guitarist from Caddo Parish then serving time for assault. Lead Belly’s performance marked a turning point in the study of American music, and musicologists continue to regard Angola as a unique reservoir of music history that stretches back to the site’s antebellum period. On March 11, the Louisiana State Penitentiary Museum Foundation will host “Angola Bound Revisited: Prison Music of Louisiana,” a daylong symposium, on the grounds of Angola Penitentiary. The symposium lineup will feature leading scholars and performances by inmate musicians.

UPDATE: DUE TO HEAVY RAINS, THE MARCH 11 SYMPOSIUM WAS POSTPONED. THE MUSEUM HAS RESCHEDULED FOR JUNE 10 TENTATIVELY. STAY TUNED TO KNOWLOUISIANA.ORG FOR MORE INFO.

The symposium will take place in the former Receiving Center/Death Row building, the museum’s newly opened extension. Nick Spitzer, host of the American Routes radio show and professor at Tulane University, will moderate discussions on the Lomaxes and Lead Belly, Harry Oster’s collection of 1950’s recordings from Angola, and the story of jazz at the prison. Participants include Adam Machado of Arhoolie Records, Benjamin Harbert of Georgetown, and musician Charles Neville, a former inmate. Following the symposium, the prison and the museum will host a concert with prisoner bands, The Jazzmen, Angola’s Most Wanted, The Main Prison Gospel Band, Pure Heart Messengers, Little Country and Final Mission on the Angola rodeo grounds.

The symposium also marks the opening of a new and expanded prison music exhibit at the penitentiary’s museum. Students from the University of New Orleans under the direction of Professor Benjamin Weber have digitized a recently discovered cache of more than 2,000 negatives. These photos, which include images of Angola’s bands of the 1950s and the 1960s, affirm the diversity of musical contributions made by inmates. The exhibit will also include those performers such as Governor Jimmie Davis (1946), Johnny Cash and more recently The Neville Brothers who came to Angola to entertain the prisoners. The symposium and exhibit are supported by a grant from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities.

“Music expresses that which cannot be said in words,” says Dr. Marianne Fisher-Giorlando, project director for the symposium. “Prison music gives a glimpse into the world of the incarcerated which cannot be accessed any other way. Even before Angola the prison, Angola the plantation gives the music a rich and transformative history through the work songs handed down from slavery and used by the prisoners, first under the lease system as they worked the fields and later during the early 20th century.”

Box lunches will be available for a fee. For more information visit Angola Museum Facebook page, Angola Museum website at angolamuseum.org.

 

 

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