COUNTRY MUSIC - A Film By Ken Burns
Airs Sunday, Sept. 15 - Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019 & Sunday, Sept. 22 - Wednesday, Sept. 25 at 8 p.m. & 10 p.m. on KPBS TV
Tuesday, September 10, 2019
Credit: Courtesy of Sony Music Archives
—16-Hour Documentary Chronicles History of Country Music, from the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers and Bob Wills to Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Charley Pride, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Garth Brooks and Many More—
All episodes available to stream on demand with KPBS Passport beginning Sept. 15!
Step back in time and journey through the compelling history of a truly American art form with COUNTRY MUSIC, a new eight-part, 16-hour film directed by Ken Burns, and produced by Burns and his long-time collaborators Dayton Duncan and Julie Dunfey.
The documentary chronicles the highs and lows of country music’s early days, from southern Appalachia’s songs of struggle, heartbreak and faith to the rollicking Western swing of Texas, California’s honky-tonks and Nashville’s “Grand Ole Opry.”
The film follows the evolution of country music over the course of the 20th century as it eventually emerges to become “America’s music.”
COUNTRY MUSIC explores crucial questions — “What is country music?” and “Where did it come from?” — while focusing on the biographies of the fascinating trailblazers who created and shaped it — from the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, Bill Monroe and Bob Wills to Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Charley Pride, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Garth Brooks and many more — as well as the times in which they lived.
Much like the music itself, the film tells unforgettable stories of hardships and joys shared by everyday people.
“At the heart of every great country music song is a story,” said Ken Burns. “As the songwriter Harlan Howard said, ‘It’s three chords and the truth.’ The common experiences and human emotions speak to each of us about love and loss, about hard times and the chance of redemption. As an art form, country music is also forever revisiting its history, sharing and updating old classics and celebrating its roots, which are, in many ways, foundational to our country itself.”
“We discovered that country music isn’t –– and never was –– one type of music; it actually is many styles,” said Dayton Duncan. “It sprang from diverse roots, and it sprouted many branches. What unites them all is the way the music connects personal stories and elemental experiences with universal themes that every person can relate to. And as it evolved, from the bottom up, it created a special bond between the artists and fans that is unique among all other musical genres.”
The History Of Country Music:
COUNTRY MUSIC digs deep to uncover the roots of the music, including ballads, minstrel music, hymns and the blues, and its early years in the 1920s, when it was called “hillbilly music,” and was recorded for the first time and played across the airwaves on radio station barn dances.
It explores how Hollywood B movies instituted the fad of singing cowboys like Gene Autry and shows how the rise of juke joints after World War II changed the musical style by bringing electric and pedal steel guitars to the forefront.
The film witnesses the rise of bluegrass music with Bill Monroe and reveals how one of country music’s offspring — rockabilly — evolved into rock and roll in Memphis.
Throughout, the documentary focuses on the constant tug of war between the desire to make country music as mainstream as possible and the periodic reflexes to bring it back to its roots.
As Burns and Duncan weave together the musical stories, they connect the history of country music to the larger story of America, looking at how artists and songwriting reflected periods of depression, war and cultural upheaval, and how radio and later television impacted the art form.
The series also tells the story of how Nashville came to be not only the epicenter of the country music industry, but Music City USA.
At the film’s heart are the stories of unforgettable songs and the artists who created them: their emergences from humble beginnings, their musical influences and their breakthrough moments.
The film explores the extraordinary connection between country music artists and fans, and notes the enduring influence of particular songs and musicians across generations.
The narrative ends in the mid-1990s as a young Garth Brooks emerges from a small venue in Nashville to achieve phenomenal success, brings country music to an entirely new level of popularity, and yet shows up to sign autographs for more than 20 hours at the Country Music Association’s Fan Fair.
Making The Film:
Duncan, Burns and Dunfey spent eight years researching and producing the film, conducting interviews with more than 100 people, including 40 members of the Country Music Hall of Fame (17 of those interviewed have since passed on).
Among those storytellers are historian Bill Malone and a wide range of country artists such as Marty Stuart, Rosanne Cash, Vince Gill, Reba McEntire, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Dwight Yoakam, Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson, and Naomi and Wynonna Judd, as well as studio musicians, record producers and others.
The film uses more than 3,200 photographs and over two hours of archival footage, including rare and never-before-seen photos and footage of Jimmie Rodgers, Johnny Cash and others.
Episode 1: “The Rub (Beginnings -1933)” airs Sunday, Sept. 15 at 8 p.m. & 10 p.m. - See how what was first called "hillbilly music" reaches new audiences through phonographs and radio, and launches the careers of country music's first big stars, the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers.
Episode 2: “Hard Times (1933 -1945)” airs Monday, Sept. 16 at 8 p.m & 10 p.m. - Watch as Nashville becomes the heart of the country music industry. The genre grows in popularity during the Great Depression and World War II as America falls in love with singing cowboys, Texas Swing and the Grand Ole Opry's Roy Acuff.
Episode 3: “The Hillbilly Shakespeare (1945 -1953)” airs Tuesday, Sept. 17 at 8 p.m. & 10 p.m. - See how the bluegrass sound spreads in post-war America, and meet honky-tonk star Hank Williams, whose songs of surprisingly emotional depth are derived from his troubled and tragically short life.
Episode 4: “I Can't Stop Loving You (1953 -1963)” airs Wednesday, Sept. 18 at 8 p.m. & 10 p.m. - Travel to Memphis, where Sun Studios artists Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley usher in the era of rockabilly. Ray Charles crosses America's racial divide by recording a country album. Patsy Cline shows off Music City's smooth new Nashville Sound.
Episode 5: “The Sons and Daughters of America (1964 -1968)” airs Sunday, Sept. 22 at 8 p.m. & 10 p.m. - See how country music reflects a changing America, with Loretta Lynn speaking to women everywhere, Merle Haggard becoming "The Poet of the Common Man" and audiences looking beyond race to embrace Charley Pride.
Episode 6: “Will The Circle Be Unbroken? (1968 -1972)” airs Monday, Sept. 23 at 8 p.m. & 10 p.m. - Learn how country music responds to a nation divided by the Vietnam War, as Army captain turned songwriter Kris Kristofferson sets a new lyrical standard, and artists like Bob Dylan and the Byrds find a recording home in Nashville.
Episode 7: “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way? (1973 -1983)” airs Tuesday, Sept. 24 at 8 p.m. & 10 p.m. - Witness a vibrant era in country music, with Dolly Parton finding mainstream success; Hank Williams, Jr. and Rosanne Cash emerging from their famous fathers' shadows; and Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings launching the "Outlaw" movement.
Episode 8: “Don't Get Above Your Raisin (1984 -1996)” airs Wednesday, Sept. 25 at 8 p.m. & 10 p.m. - Learn how "New Traditionalists" like George Strait, Randy Travis and the Judds help country music stay true to its roots. Witness both the rise of superstar Garth Brooks and the return of an aging Johnny Cash to the industry he helped create.
WATCH ON YOUR SCHEDULE:
KPBS members will be able to stream the entire series via Passport for a period of six months beginning Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019. KPBS Passport is video streaming for members supporting KPBS at $60 or more yearly, using your computer, smartphone, tablet, Roku, AppleTV, Amazon Fire or Chromecast. Learn how to activate your benefit now.
This series will stream for free on all station-branded PBS platforms, including PBS.org and the PBS Video App, available on iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Chromecast. The first four episodes will be available timed to the Sunday, September 15 premiere and the second four timed to the broadcast of Episode 5 on Sunday, September 22 (each episode will stream for a period of three weeks).
COUNTRY MUSIC boasts nearly 600 music cues over the 16 hours. In the fall of 2019, Legacy Recordings, a division of Sony Music Entertainment, will release a comprehensive suite of soundtrack music products timed to the PBS broadcast of COUNTRY MUSIC.
Alfred A. Knopf, Burns’s longtime publisher, will issue the companion book, "Country Music: An Illustrated History,” written by Duncan and with an introduction by Burns, on September 10. The 464-page work includes over 400 images, many of which are not seen in the film.
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