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Rita Chiarelli at home in The Big House

Canadian audiences know Hamilton’s Rita Chiarelli as a powerful performer of the blues, with a raw, passionate voice and an unusual honesty in her approach.

But that didn’t mean much to the inmates of Louisiana State Penitentiary. The infamous prison known as Angola lies along the legendary Highway 61, and is one of the birthplaces of the blues.

It was a kind of pilgrimage that led Chiarelli to the prison where Leadbelly was once an inmate. Over the course of ten years, Chiarelli developed relationships with some of Angola’s current musical inmates. These relationships within prison walls deepened her own views of life, and especially her expression of the blues.

Forming a partnership with film director Bruce McDonald, Chiarelli visited Angola with a documentary crew to film “Music From the Big House,” a remarkable musical collaboration inside the prison walls.

The result is a gut-wrenching glimpse into the lives of inmates, the horror of their crimes, and the incredible healing power of music.

We talked to Rita Chiarelli about finding a home at Angola in Episode 21 of the Woodshed Sessions.

Click to watch exclusive Woodshed Session performances:

These Four Walls on Vimeo
French Kiss on YouTube
Rest My Bones on YouTube

Watch the trailer for “Music From the Big House”

The Music From the Big House soundtrack features songs by Rita and by her musical collaborators from inside Angola.

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