born on 19/1/1926 in Nashville, TN, United States
died in August 2004 in Madison, TN, United States
The Prisonaires were an African American doo-wop group whose hit "Just Walkin' in the Rain" was released on Sun Records in 1953, while the group was incarcerated in the Tennessee State Penitentiary in Nashville. The group was led by Johnny Bragg, who had been a penitentiary inmate since 1943 when, at the age of 17, he was convicted of six charges of rape. The Prisonaires were formed when Bragg joined up with two prison gospel singers, Ed Thurman and William Stewart (each of whom was doing 99 years for murder), and two new penitentiary arrivals, John Drue Jr. (three years for larceny) and Marcell Sanders (one-to-five for involuntary manslaughter).
The group was discovered by the radio producer Joe Calloway, who heard them singing while preparing a news broadcast from the prison. He arranged for the group to perform on the radio, a performance which was eventually brought to the attention of Sam Phillips of Sun Records. He arranged for the group to be transported under armed guard to Memphis to record. A few weeks later, "Just Walkin' in the Rain" was released and quickly sold 50,000 copies.
Their success was such that they were allowed out on day passes to tour throughout the state of Tennessee. The band became favorites of the state's governor, Frank G. Clement, and frequently performed at his mansion.
The group's legacy was confirmed when "Just Walkin' in the Rain", written by Bragg, was recorded by Johnnie Ray.
Bragg's sentence was commuted in 1959, and he continued recording after his release. He died of cancer in 2004. Stewart died of a drug overdose in a Florida motel in 1959, Sanders died in the late 1960s, Thurman was killed in an accident in 1973 and Drue died of cancer in 1977.
- Prisonaires biography and discography
- Article about Johnny Bragg and The Prisonaires I
- Article about Johnny Bragg and The Prisonaires II