Caroline Gnagy

Caroline Gnagy
Texas Jailhouse Music: A Prison Band History
Did you know that many states–especially those in the South–have a rich history of music behind bars? Beginning in the 1930s, folklorist John A. Lomax recorded the hymns, field hollers and labor songs sung by African-American prisoners in many southern states. However, this is just the beginning when it comes to documenting the music of our prisons.

Between the 1930s and the 1970s, many states have boasted their own stars behind bars: Louisiana’s Angola Prison once had an inmate band called “The Westerners,” who played on television. Parchman Penitentiary in Mississippi once sent their prison band, “The Insiders,” on tour throughout the South. And in Texas, from the 1930s to the 1980s, the Rhythmic Stringsters, and the Goree All-Girl String Band, and many other acts gained thousands of fans through their performances on the radio and at the Texas prison rodeo. They toured, recorded, and made musical history with their talent and perseverance. Yet after they left the prisons, many never played music again.

Starting with her home state of Texas, author Caroline Gnagy has written the first full book about this hidden past within American prison culture. “Texas Jailhouse Music: A Prison Band History” explores the history, the culture, and the music of Texas prison bands. Through careful research, including radio show transcriptions and interviews with family members of the inmates, Caroline has unearthed countless stories about the crimes, lives, and musical talent of the men and women who participated in these bands behind bars.
Essay: As If They Were Going Places: Class and Gender Portrayals Through Country Music in the Texas State Prison System, 1935 – 1945

— the above essay appears in the book “Country Boys & Redneck Women: New Essays in Gender and Country Music.” (Diane Pecknold & Kristine McCusker, Editors). University of Mississippi Press, 2016.
Caroline's Website
Austin, Texas (USA)
Caroline Gnagy is a music writer and musician based in Austin, Texas. As a musician, Caroline has played many rockabilly and Americana festivals throughout the U.S. and Europe with her rockabilly group, the Casey Sisters, and her country act, Caroline Casey and the Stringslingers. Caroline has released several successful albums with both musical acts, and also appears in the 2003 Grammy-nominated documentary film Welcome to the Club: Women of Rockabilly.

Caroline has served as contributing writer and music editor for a number of independent local and national publications. Since 2011, she has probed into the history of prison bands in Texas and other states, and presented her research at numerous academic conferences. She is the author of “As If They Were Going Places: Class and Gender Portrayals Through Country Music in the Texas State Prison, 1938–1944,” an essay appearing in Country Boys & Redneck Women (University Press of Mississippi, 2016). Caroline is currently working on her second book, about the lives and careers of female rockabilly performers from pioneers to the present day.
Prison bands, Texas
Prison bands, Louisiana
Prison bands, Florida
Country Music
Rockabilly Music