Today, I feel I post something very special. The two songs I’m going to present to you are from an album called Angola Prison Spirituals.
One of the most fear evoking prisons in America is the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. Angola (also called “The Farm”) is the largest maximum security prison in the United States. It houses 5,000 inmates and employs about 1,800 staff members. The 18,000 acre (73 km²) property belonged previously to the Angola and other plantations “owned by Isaac Franklin in unincorporated West Feliciana Parish close to the Mississippi border.” Angola is surrounded on three sides by the Mississippi River. (Wiki)
The men who sing on these recordings had to endure the harshest punishment for whatever crimes they had (or were accused of having) committed. In the 50’s, when the songs were recorded, such State Farm Prisons could often be considered a legalized form of plantation- conscription labor.
So, if you listen to the songs with that background in mind, you’ll understand where the Blues is actually coming from: from the souls of the suffering. No matter whether they were true criminals or not, the anguish and pain of a life at Angola prison shines through their singing. For the mostly black inmates there was no other authority to turn to for relieve than God himself.
Please take a moment to consider the plight of these artists before you listen to them. This music is a piece of American history with a bitter taste to it.
Robert Pete Williams, whom you hear in these recordings, later became a known Blues artist.
Little School Song
Bonus: Robert Pete Williams — A Motherless Child Has A Hard Time (As Blue As A Man Can Be, 1994, Arhoolie)