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Shuttered Texas Prison Inspired Folk Standard "Midnight Special"

The closure of the Central Unit in Sugarland leaves its mark as the first Texas prison to be shuttered in the history of the state. But it also leaves its mark on musical history. In his story in the Austin American Stateman, Mike Ward reveals how the 102 year old facility is said to be the inspiration for the Leadbelly classic "midnight special."


By legend, it was memorialized in the 1920s folk song "Midnight Special," made famous during the 1930s by Huddie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter, an American folk and blues singer. Ledbetter served seven years for murder at Central during the 1920s. In the book "Best Loved American Folk Songs," the Midnight Special is identified as a train from Houston that shines its light into a prison cell, a light that is seen as a light of salvation and change.

Mose Buchele focuses on energy and environmental reporting at KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @mosebuchele.