Abstract

Johnny Cash's live prison albums, “At Folsom Prison” and “At San Quentin,” are significant and under-recognized social statements of the 1960s. Cash encouraged his listeners to empathize with prisoners by performing songs with prison themes and by recording the electric reactions of inmates to his music. Cash performed before a multiracial audience, and his music was popular with the counterculture as well as with traditional country fans. Cash's albums and his prison reform activism rejected the law-and-order policies of conservative politicians who sought to enlist country music in their cause. An examination of Cash's prison records challenges the commonly held notion that country music provided the soundtrack for the white conservative backlash of the late 1960s.

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