Mary Gauthier’s Thanksgiving at the Prison

One may tell from the prison setting that Mary Gauthier’s “Thanksgiving” is probably not a cheery holiday song.  But that does not make it any less beautiful.

The song, which appeared on Gauthier’s 2007 album Between Daylight And Dark, recounts the point of view of a child with a grandmother standing in line to visit someone in prison.

They make her take her winter coat off,
Then they frisk her again;
When they’re done she wipes their touch off her dress,
Stands tall and heads in.

Yes, “Thanksgiving” is a Thanksgiving song.  But it views the holiday from the perspective of the families of those in prison.  During this period of mass incarceration in the United States, we often forget about how prison affects the family members of those we lock away.

The song is set at Tallulah State Prison, which was once a notorious horrible prison for youths. In 2004, due to outcries from the community, the juvenile prison was shut down.

Mary Gauthier, who grew up in Louisiana, often reminds us of the common humanity that links us.  “Thanksgiving” is a wonderful song that tells a story you might not expect in a holiday song.  And if you listen closely, it might change you just a little bit.

It’s Thanksgiving at the prison, surrounded by families;
Road weary pilgrims who show up faithfully;
Even though it ain’t easy, even though it ain’t free;
Sometimes love ain’t easy, I guess love ain’t free.

What is your favorite song about Thanksgiving? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    I Think I Love You David Cassidy

    I was a bit surprised at how I was affected by the recent news of David Cassidy’s failing health and then the news of his death.  Like many people, it had been decades since I had really followed his career.  But his voice and music were a big part of the reason I came to love music.

    As a kid, one of my favorite television shows was The Partridge Family, which ran from September 1970 to March 1974.  Each episode featured pop music, that even if not actually featuring the whole “family,” did feature David Cassidy and Shirley Jones.

    Their hit “I Think I Love You” became one of my favorite songs after I bought the 45 rpm single.  Yeah, it was pop music and even David Cassidy would for a time try to distance himself from the music of The Partridge Family.  But it was a wonderful introduction to popular music for this kid.

    I remember him on the teen magazines and the girls who liked him for his looks as well as his voice.  But at that time, I had yet to discover the younger version of Elvis or to delve into Dylan or discover Springsteen.  David Cassidy was my first rock star.

    Whenever I hear music from Cassidy it always makes me smile to this day.  And what’s not to love about that?  Rest in peace.

    What is your favorite memory of David Cassidy? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    The True Story of Tom Dooley

    On November 17, 1958, the Kingston Trio scored a number one hit on the Billboard pop chart with their recording of the folk song “Tom Dooley.” The song, asking Mr. Dooley to hang down his head, became one of those songs where everyone knows the chorus.

    But the lyrics come out of a true story.

    The Real Tom Dula

    On May 1, 1868, a Confederate veteran named Tom Dula was hanged for the 1866 stabbing death of Laura Foster. Dula had been Foster’s lover and father of her unborn child.

    Some questioned whether Dula was the actual killer. In addition to his affair with Foster, Dula had romantic engagements with two of Foster’s cousins, Anne Foster Melton and Pauline Foster. On the gallows, Dula professed his innocence while conceding he still deserved to be executed. Thus, some came to believe that Melton had killed Laura Foster.

    The trial, a retrial, and the execution attracted significant attention. National newspapers covered Dula’s trial, and former North Carolina governor Zebulon Vance represented Dula pro bono. Due to all of the attention, a North Carolina poet named Thomas C. Land wrote a poem about the case called “Tom Dooley.”

    The video below provides some of the history behind the song. Check it out.

    The Kingston Trio

    Historians do not know who created the folk song “Tom Dooley.” But over time various artists recorded versions of “Tom Dooley.” And the Kingston Trio produced the most popular version when they recorded the song in 1958, selling more than six million copies.

    In later years, some criticized Kingston Trio performances as a sanitized version of folk music. But many today recognize that the group, despite their clean-cut coordinated outfits, were instrumental in making folk music popular and laid the groundwork for other folk singers to find success.

    The Kingston Trio version of “Tom Dooley” is more vague about the details of the real case than earlier versions of the song. But perhaps their decision made the song more universal, leading to its massive sales. Check out their complete version below.

    The Legend of Tom Dolley

    Finally, there is a 1959 film called The Legend of Tom Dooley, starring Michael Landon. The movie does not attempt to tell the true story about Tom Dula but is based upon the song.

    Below is the first part of the movie.

    We do know today that innocent people still often end up on death row in our modern system of justice.  But nobody could have predicted that we would still be talking about a nineteenth century North Carolina murder so many years later.

    And we can never know the full story of what happened to Laura Palmer, even while we reflect on the folk song about the tragic story.  Yet, that is the story behind the song.


    What is your favorite version of “Tom Dooley”? Photo via public domain. Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    “Streetlight Harmonies” Tells the History of Doo-Wop

    A new documentary, Streetlight Harmonies (2017), explores the early years of Doo-Wop music. The film features early performers like the Drifters’ Charlie Thomas, explaining that the early street singers of the 1950s began singing for the friendship with other singers and to attract girls.

    Also, the film traces how the music that started out on the street corners developed into the girl groups of the 1960s and later influenced other singers including modern boy bands. Brent Wilson directed Streetlight Harmonies. Check out this trailer for Streetlight Harmonies.

    Streetlight Harmonies premieres November 14, 2017 at the Doc NYC festival.

    Leave your two cents in the comments.

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