Prison choir provides rock, gospel and a lot more
They were a little shy at first. Then the music took over.
All are inmates at the Warm Springs Correctional Center in Carson City and they’ve been singing together for about a year as The Chosen Few.
The group’s offerings include old classics like “New York, New York,” rock, rap, gospel, and everything in between. Director William Jefferson said they can perform to suit the occasion. Pianist Stanford Griffin, who provides the accompaniment on a donated keyboard, makes it look easy.
Originally from Las Vegas, Griffin said he’s never had a music lesson. His mom put him in front of the church piano when he was a boy and he learned by playing off her notes as she sang.
“She told me I was blessed by the Lord, born to play,” he said. “I went astray in my teen years and I’ve wasted nine years of my life. Playing is a release and now I’m doing what I was born to do.”
He’s been at Warm Springs Correctional Center for about 15 months, and in that time graduated from the drug program. He gave a special thanks to the staff working with him at the prison and said he plans on working in music, with youths when he finishes his time.
Organized primarily through the efforts of the prisoners, the group practices about three times a week. Connie Bisby, associate warden of programs at the prison, said the group performs on Christmas, Easter and at the prison’s recent high school and college graduations.
“They approached me, said they had some talent and would like to perform,” she said. “We opened up the chapel for rehearsals. One officer donated a keyboard and last Christmas, they gave two concerts. All of the inmates, totaling more than 500, came and there were no problems. It was very uplifting for everyone.”
The core group is composed of four members, the numbers fluctuating when inmates are transferred or paroled. Others are brought in when the occasion calls for more singers and each has a story.
William Jefferson, the son of a professional gospel singer, once performed in Las Vegas casinos, and Pete Boulter sounded like a professional when he belted out a winsome 1950s tune called “Daddy’s Home.”
“I always liked to sing, but not in front of people,” Boulter said. “Baring my emotional side is a new experience, but now I like singing in front of people. It’s a big rush. I don’t know how to describe it, except to say that it’s very exciting.”
The group is primarily black and much of the music has gospel overtones, never more obvious than when 21-year-old Mario Dixon sat at the keyboard. He learned to sing in church and once belonged to a choir group that was “second to none,” according to Jefferson. Now, he’s learning to play the keyboard.
“The older musicians are teaching younger,” Griffin said. “We’re starting him easy. When he’s ready, we’ll give him something a little more complicated.”