Prison Songs

Prison SongsPrison Songs examines the lives of the prisoners of the Mississippi State Penitentiary in the late 1940s, by reimagining the work songs recorded there.

The Mississippi State Penitentiary is the oldest prison in the USA, founded in 1901, and was and is known by its inmates as “Parchman Farm”. As well as its history as a prison, thanks to Alan Lomax’s pioneering work, it is also an important location in the history of field recording as a practice.

From ‘Eighteen Hammers’ to ‘No More My Lawd’, these songs are a moving portrait of prison life, and defiant statements of hope and unity in the face of appalling conditions. Here, 30 sound artists from as far afield as Brazil, Turkey, Australia and the USA bring their own lives and experiences to bear on reimagining these songs.

You can explore the songs on the sound map below, or by clicking on the individual song title below to hear the different versions of that song. In each case, the original recording is first in the playlist, followed by its reimagined counterparts.

Choose a song to listen to:

Tweet to your followers about Prison Songs in one click!

Prison Songs sound map


Eighteen Hammers

Reimagined by Stuart Fowkes (Cities and Memory) and Lianray Pienaar.

Whoa Buck

Reimagined by Laurence Colbert and Jeff Dungfelder.

No More My Lawd

Reimagined by Alex Hehir, Walker Wooding and Adam Hulbert.

Old Alabama

Reimagined by Karhide and Ian Haygreen.

Old Dollar Mamie

Reimagined by Fernando Ramalho and Leon von Bokhorst.

Black Women

Reimagined by Anthony Lyons and Sofia Botero.

Duckin’ and Dodgin’

Reimagined by Mark Taylor and Christian Hagelskjaer From.

Prison Songs photography

A selection of images from life on Parchman Farm and other state penitentiaries in the 1940s

My Baby Got to Go

Reimagined by Nick St. George, Marie Tueje and Richard Fair.

Lonesome Blues

Reimagined by Mehtap Caglar.

Penitentiary Blues

Reimagined by Andy Lyon.

It Makes A Long Time Man Feel Bad

Reimagined by Dan Pope.

Prettiest Train

Reimagined by Barney Spigel and Haris Sahacic.

Rock Me Mama

Reimagined by Manuel Guerrero, Lee Christian and Andy Billington.

They’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone

Reimagined by Michael McDermott and Camilla Fanning.

Jumpin’ Judy

Reimagined by Rodrigo Ramos and Paul Collins.