James Carter (December 18, 1925 – November 26, 2003) was an American amateur singer and several times an inmate of the Mississippi prison system. He was paid $20,000, and credited, for a four-decade-old lead-vocalist performance used in the year-2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou?.
In 1959, Carter was serving time at Camp B of the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Lambert. In a southern field excursion, Carter and the other prisoners in his chain gang were spending the day chopping wood. Folk music historian Alan Lomax encountered them, and Carter and the others agreed to be recorded, as soloist and chorus respectively on an old spiritual, "Po' Lazarus", chopping the logs in time to the music. The recording and a photograph of the prisoners became part Lomax's seminal music archive.
Decades later, the recording was purchased for use in the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, which went on to win a Grammy for Album of the Year. During this, the producers, working in the hope that Carter was still alive, successfully tracked him down. Despite never seeing the film and not even remembering the song he had sung over 40 years previously, Carter was pleased with the album's success, and was present at the benefit concert held in Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, which featured repeat performances by the performers of other numbers on the soundtrack (although Carter himself did not perform).
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