James Carter is credited as a performer on the soundtrack of the film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, despite not being a professional singer.
As of 1959, Carter was serving time at the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Lambert for charges unknown. In a southern field excursion at Camp B, Carter and the other prisoners in his chain gang were spending the day chopping wood. Carter began singing an old spiritual, "Po' Lazarus", and the other prisoners joined in, chopping the logs in time to the music. Folk music historian Alan Lomax happened to be present at the time, and was able to take a photograph of the prisoners and make a recording of the music, which he donated to a 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, it was discovered by the producers that Carter was still alive, and they successfully tracked him down. Despite never seeing the film and, understandably, not even remembering the song he had sung over 40 years previous, 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 other performers from the soundtrack (although Carter himself did not perform).
As the other prisoners have not been identified (and likely never will be), the official credit for the artist on the soundtrack is for "James Carter & the Prisoners".
Carter died November 26, 2003, in Chicago, at age 77
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