You Can Hear It Through The Prison Walls: Music with Rita Chiarelli and of Johnny Cash

This new documentary – Music From The Big House – is being shown in my town! After just learning a little about prison libraries in Canada, it is great timing to be able to see the Canadian Queen of Blues’ work in Angola prison, located in Louisiana.

About the documentary:

In MUSIC FROM THE BIG HOUSE, Rita Chiarelli, Canada’s Queen of the Blues, takes a pilgrimage to the birthplace of the blues, Louisiana State Maximum Security Penitentiary a.k.a Angola Prison – what used to be the bloodiest prison in America. Rita’s trip turns into a historic jailhouse performance – playing with inmates serving life sentences. Their shared bond of music, and Chiarelli’s vivacious personality, draw striking revelations from the inmates. Rather than sensational stories of convicts, we witness remarkable voices of hope as their love of music radiates humanity and redemption on their quest for forgiveness.

Here’s the trailer:

While looking into music in prison, I had no idea Johnny Cash is well known for his concerts in prison and made a pair of records dedicated to his concerts (Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison [1968] and Johnny Cash at San Quentin [1969]). ” At Folsom Prison in 1968, Johnny Cash gave a concert that would later famously give his fans a peek inside prison walls” (NPR).

You can hear (& read) a story about Cash and his music in prison at NPR – Inside Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison.

Here’s Cash singing San Quentin live:

Seeing these videos makes me wonder about music collections in prison libraries and how it could serve patrons through a very different media.