In my book Music in American Crime Prevention and Punishment (Univ. of Michigan Press, 2012), I explored the historical and current connection between enduring though evolving ideas of music as enlightening and romantic ideas of prison as a place of authenticity/creativity. These ideas can obscure the real work of music in prison.
Music, in performance or a class setting, can function in various ways: as a productive way to occupy time or connect an individual to his or her past and identity. It can also act as a means of exchange for good behavior or function in observation and discipline (à la Foucault). There is much more to be said here.
My look into music’s roles in prison relied on the important work of others, including ethnomusicologist Benjamin Harbert. I also want to mention André de Quadros, Mary Cohen, and Maria Mendonca.
Harbert, incidentally, is involved in an upcoming symposium that may be of interest to some:
Angola Bound Revisited: Prison Music of Louisiana
A symposium on music at Angola prison
Friday, March 11, 2016, 9:30 - 4:00 P.M.
Louisiana State Penitentiary Museum Receiving Center
Nick Spitzer, Moderator of American Routes, Public Radio Exchange and Tulane University, Anthropology
Adam Machado of Arhoolie Records, working with the Harry Oster Collection
Benjamin Harbert, Georgetown University, director of Follow Me Down: Portraits of Louisiana Prison Musicians
Alvin Singh II, grand-nephew of Lead Belly and curator of the Lead Belly Archives
Charles Neville, of The Neville Brothers
Afternoon live music will be provided by Angola’s prisoner bands The Jazzmen, Angola’s Most Wanted, The Main Prison Gospel Band, Pure Heart Messengers, Little Country, as well as Final Mission from Dixon Correctional Institution.
Free and open to the public.