"Po' Lazarus" is a traditional African-American work song about a man who is hunted and gunned down by a high sheriff with a .45.
James Carter was a prisoner in Camp B of Parchman Farm, Mississippi State Penitentiary when musical archivist Alan Lomax recorded him leading a group of prisoners singing this work song. The recording was included on volume nine, Bad Man Ballads, part of Alan Lomax's 1959 Southern Journey LP series on Atlantic Records.
Four decades later, the recording was licensed for use in the soundtrack to the Coen brothers' film O Brother, Where Art Thou? The film opens with a scene of prisoners in the old South working on a road and singing the chain gang song.
The O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack topped the Billboard charts for many weeks and went on to win a Grammy for Album of the Year. Carter was tracked down and given thousands of dollars in royalties. When he was given his first check for $20,000, he admitted that he'd forgotten the lyrics.
Bob Dylan performed the song in his early days as a folk singer. He later recorded it with the group of musicians that would become The Band in 1967 as part of the recordings made at his Woodstock home. His version can be found on The Bootleg Series Vol. 11: The Basement Tapes Complete, a compilation album of these unreleased home recordings, released on November 3, 2014.