The Story of a Song ~ Just Walkin' in the Rain | The Prisonaires (1953)

Members of American music group the Prisonaires sit in the Kayne Avenue Baptist Church,
 where they were to give a performance, Nashville, Tennessee, September 1953


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).


Robert Riley composes in his cell, 1953



"Just Walkin' in the Rain" is a popular song. It was written in 1952 by Johnny Bragg and 
Robert Riley, after a comment made by Bragg as the pair crossed the courtyard while it
was raining. Bragg allegedly said, "Here we are just walking in the rain, and wondering 
what the girls are doing." 

Riley suggested that this would make a good basis for a song, and within a few minutes, 
Bragg had composed two verses. However, because Bragg was unable to read and write, 
he asked Riley to write the lyrics down in exchange for being credited as one of the
song's writers.


Incarcerated American musician Robert Riley composes music in his cell at Tennessee State Prison,
Nashville, September 1953


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.


Members of American music group the Prisonaires play cards at a table outdoors, Nashville, Tennessee,
September 1953


The Prisonaires, Just Walkin' in the Rain (1953)
Songwriter(s): Johnny Bragg and Robert Riley

Johnny Bragg (Lead)
Edward Lee Thurman (Tenor)
John Edward Drue Jr. (Tenor)
Marcel Sanders (Bass)
William Stewart (Baritone)


 The Prisonaires perform at the home of Tennessee State Prison warden James Edwards,
Nashville, September 1953


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 Prisonaires perform at the home of Tennessee State Prison warden James Edwards, 
Nashville, September 1953


Their only hit "Just Walkin' in the Rain" became, some years later after 1953, 
a million seller for Johnnie Ray.
Johnnie Ray, Walking In The Rain, 1956


The Prisonaires perform in the yard, 1953
The Prisonaires perform in the yard, 1953
The Prisonaires perform for an audience primarily of women and children, Nashville, Tennessee, September 1953


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.


Tennessee State Prison, Nashville, 1953


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