Why a Famous All-Women Prison String Band Faded into Obscurity

“They wanted to get famous and then disappear.”

By Rhonda Fanning & Leah ScarpelliDecember 22, 2016 10:26 am,

In the 1940s the Goree prison unit in Huntsville, Texas was well known. It was the home of the Goree All Girl String Band, heard weekly on the WBAP radio station airing across north Texas.

The station’s show, “Thirty Minutes Behind the Walls” – which gave the audience a peek into the prison system in Texas – inspired inmate Reable Childs to start the band. She had some singing and musical experience before she entered prison, but the other women in the band didn’t come from musical backgrounds.

The women had been convicted of crimes like murder, robbery and cattle rustling. But they gained quite a following from the radio show, weekly performances and a stint at the Texas Prison Rodeo.

Bobbie Jean Sawyer wrote about the group for WideOpenCountry.com. In her article, she references research by Caroline Gnagy, from her book “Texas Jailhouse Music: A Prison Band History.”

Sawyer says the band was the breakout success of “Thirty Minutes Behind the Walls”.

“They were flooded with fan letters, marriage proposals,” she says. “Men would send them money.”

The eight women band had singers, acoustic guitars, fiddle, banjo and a steel guitar.

“Most of them they spent just time practicing in between their shifts in prison,” Sawyer says. “They would work all day and then squeeze in time to practice. And it was something that they did because they had the opportunity to be a part of this. I think it was about getting some of their dignity back and showing the public that they were more than maybe the public’s perception of them.”

The string band played country and western. They were the first all-women country band in Texas. But once the women left prison, they didn’t further their musical careers.

“They wanted to get famous and then disappear,” Sawyer says. “They faded into oblivion. They’re a footnote in music history now. They’re not really remembered because they weren’t recorded. They didn’t make records. … They really wanted it that way. They were proud of it in prison, they were proud of their status as women in this band. But once they left prison, saying you were a Goree girl meant that you had been in prison and you had done wrong and they were very ashamed, even years later.”

Post by Beth Cortez-Neavel.