Country Music

Country Music

Sun, 09/15/2019 - 8:00pm - 10:00pm

Bill Monroe on the Grand Ole Opry, Nashville, c.1958.

Credit: Courtesy of Les Leverett Collection, Grand Ole Opry Archives - credit line must always accompany photo

Step back in time and journey through the compelling history of a truly American art form with this new eight-part, 16-hour film.

Directed by Ken Burns, and produced by Burns and his long-time collaborators Dayton Duncan and Julie Dunfey, Country Music premieres Sunday, September 15, 2019 through Wednesday, September 18, and Sunday, September 22 through Wednesday, September 25 at 8:00-10:00 p.m. on WXXI-TV

The documentary, written by Duncan, who also wrote the illustrated companion book (coming from Alfred A. Knopf on September 10), 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. 

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. 

The premiere episode The Rub (Beginnings - 1933), airing on Sunday, September 15, 2019 at 8:00 p.m., shows how what was first called “hillbilly music” reached new audiences through phonographs and radio, and launched the careers of country music’s first big stars, the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers

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