Airs Tuesdays, May 16-30, 2017 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV
Thursday, May 11, 2017
Credit: Courtesy of Getty Images
The AMERICAN EPIC historical documentaries are a journey back in time to the "Big Bang" of modern popular music. #AmericanEpic
AMERICAN EPIC, a film series produced by Allison McGourty, Duke Erikson and Director Bernard MacMahon, explores the pivotal recording journeys at the height of the Roaring Twenties, when music scouts armed with cutting-edge recording technology captured the breadth of American music and discovered the artists that would shape our world.
In the 1920s, as radio took over the pop music business, record companies were forced to leave their studios in major cities in search of new styles and markets.
Ranging the mountains, prairies, rural villages, and urban ghettos of America, they discovered a wealth of unexpected talent. The recordings they made of all the ethnic groups of America democratized the nation and gave a voice to everyone.
Country singers in the Appalachians, blues guitarists in the Mississippi Delta, gospel preachers across the south, Cajun fiddlers in Louisiana, Tejano groups from the Texas Mexico border, Native American drummers in Arizona, and Hawaiian musicians were all recorded.
For the first time, a woman picking cotton in Mississippi, a coalminer in Virginia or a tobacco farmer in Tennessee could have their thoughts and feelings heard on records played in living rooms across the country.
It was the first time America heard itself.
Virtually no documentation of these extraordinary events survives and nearly ninety percent of the recording masters have been destroyed. A vital part of American cultural history has been lost.
Over three episodes, narrated by Robert Redford, AMERICAN EPIC rescues this history. The remarkable lives of these seminal musicians are revealed through previously unseen film footage and photographs, and exclusive interviews with music pioneers, their families and eyewitnesses to the era.
The series represents a ten-year odyssey undertaken by Director Bernard MacMahon and Producers Allison McGourty and Duke Erikson, and Audio Engineer Nicholas Bergh that involved tracking down countless long forgotten musicians, restoring the music that they recorded and reassembling the technology that created it.
Along the way they brought some of the most important figures in contemporary culture to help them on their quest. Executive Producers Jack White, T Bone Burnett and Robert Redford have lent their support to what Redford calls "America's greatest untold story.”
Starring: The Carter Family, Memphis Jug Band, Elder Burch, The Williamson Bros. & Curry, Dick Justice, Charley Patton, Hopi Indian Chanters, Joseph Kekuku, Lydia Mendoza, the Breaux Family, Mississippi John Hurt and Blind Willie Johnson.
Episode 1: "The Big Bang" airs Tuesday, May 16 at 9 p.m. - Travel to 1920s Tennessee as the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, and the Memphis Jug Band make their first records with producer Ralph Peer on a revolutionary portable recording machine, creating the first recordings of R&B and country songs.
Episode 2: "Blood and Soil" airs Tuesday, May 23 at 9 p.m. - Travel to the rural South as Elder Burch, Charley Patton and others record early Delta blues, gospel and protest songs. The Great Flood of 1927 devastates Mississippi River communities, leading to northern migration and Chicago Blues by Howlin’ Wolf.
Episode 3: "Out Of The Many, The One" airs Tuesday, May 30 at 9 p.m. - Discover how America’s diverse cultures contribute to its musical styles: from the Hopi tribe to Hawaii’s Joseph Kekuku to Mexican-American Lydia Mendoza and the Cajun Breaux Family. Mississippi John Hurt’s blues inspires a generation of musicians.
WATCH ON YOUR SCHEDULE:
Episodes from the series will be available for viewing on demand for a limited time after each broadcast.
The series will be available on Blu-ray and DVD on June 13 from PBS Distribution. Visit shopPBS.org or call 800-PLAY-PBS, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The series will also be available for digital download.
GET THE SOUNDTRACK:
On May 12, 2017, Sony Music’s Legacy Recordings will release a companion soundtrack, 100-song box set, and additional archival recordings from the 1920s and 1930s.
GET THE BOOK:
The companion book, AMERICAN EPIC, will be available May 2 from Touchstone. Bernard MacMahon and Allison McGourty’s fascinating account, written with the assistance of prize-winning author Elijah Wald, continues the journey of the series with a behind-the-scenes look at the incredible journey across America searching for these recordings and eyewitness accounts.
It features additional stories, exclusive never-before-seen photographs, and unearthed artwork. It also contains contributions from many of the musicians who participated, including Taj Mahal, Nas, Willie Nelson, and Steve Martin all of which will reveal a new understanding of America to the world and future generations.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION:
A production of BBC Arena, Lo-Max Films Ltd., Wildwood Enterprises, and THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET. Director: Bernard MacMahon. Producers: Allison McGourty, Bernard MacMahon, Duke Erikson, Adam Block, and Bill Holderman. Executive producers: T Bone Burnett, Robert Redford, Jack White, Anthony Wall for the BBC, and Julie Anderson for WNET. Stephen Segaller is executive in charge for WNET. Bill Gardner, VP of Programming & Development, oversees the project for PBS. The series is written by Bernard MacMahon, Allison McGourty, Duke Erikson and William Morgan.
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