Country Music – Directed by Ken Burns, this series chronicles the history of a uniquely American art form, rising from the experiences of remarkable people in distinctive regions of our nation. From southern Appalachia’s songs of struggle, heartbreak and faith to the rollicking western swing of Texas, from California honky tonks to Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, the series will follow the evolution of country music over the course of the 20th century, as it eventually emerged to become America’s music.
The series explores the question “What is country music?” while focusing on the biographies of the fascinating singers and songwriters who created it — from the Carter family, Jimmie Rodgers and Bob Wills to Hank Williams, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Garth Brooks and many more — as well as the times in which they lived. Like the music itself, the series tells unforgettable stories — stories of the hardships and joys shared by everyday people.
It traces the origins of country music in minstrel music, ballads, hymns and the blues and chronicle its early years when it was called “hillbilly music,” played across the airwaves on radio station “barn dances.” It explores how the Hollywood B movies instituted the fad of “singing cowboys” like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, and how the rise of “juke joints” after World War II changed the musical style by bringing electric guitars and pedal steel guitars to the forefront.
It follows the rise of bluegrass music with Bill Monroe and note how one of country music’s offspring — rockabilly — mutated into rock and roll in Memphis. It will show how Nashville slowly became not just the mecca of country music, but “Music City USA.” All the while, it highlights the constant tug of war between the desire to make country music as mainstream as possible and the periodic reflexes to take it back to its roots.
Channel: PBS (funded by: Bank of America; the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation; Public Broadcasting Service; Corporation for Public Broadcasting and members of the Better Angels Society)
Producer: Florentine Films / WETA Washington DC
Source: PBS press release