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Singing the blues with inmates of Louisiana’s Angola maximum security prison

Rita Chiarelli is seen in this still from
Rita Chiarelli is seen in this still from "Music From the Big House"
Music From the Big House

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Canadian blues singer Rita Chiarelli had been making pilgrimages to the cradle of the blues in the Mississippi when she learned about the Louisiana State Penitentiary – commonly known as Angola prison.

Angola is legendary for harsh conditions… blues and folk legend known as Leadbelly did time in Angola, and he wasn’t the only blues musician to do so. Chiarelli was preparing for a concert at Angola when she was struck by the quality and gravitas of the musicians spending time behind bars at the facility. After a set of concerts at Angola she decided that rather than simply entertain the inmates, she would lead a concert during which she would play with musicians who were serving time.

Country legend Johnny Cash performed many concerts at prisons like Folsom and San Quentin during his storied career, but never played with the convicts.

Rita will be performing music from the film at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica this evening, Wednesday, June 13 following the 7:30 pm screening of the film. "Music from the Big House" opens at the Laemmle Music Hall on Friday, June 15, with Rita performing following the 7:20 pm screening.

For tickets to tonight's (Wed., 6/13) screening at the Aero Theatre, please visit www.americancinematheque.com

For tickets to Friday's screening and performance, please visit www.laemmle.com

Musician Rita Chiarelli performs her song "Rest My Bones" on the Patt Morrison Show.


How did Chiarelli manage to step over that line and convince prison authorities that this would be beneficial for inmates? What kind of rehabilitation can music provide to people who wind up behind bars? Is blues music still the music of the oppressed?


Rita Chiarelli, Canada’s “Goddess of the Blues” has released eight albums since 1992; focus of the new documentary “Music From the Big House”

Jailhouse Blues by Patt Morrison, KPCC on Grooveshark