Acclaimed film-maker Ken Burns’s definitive series COUNTRY MUSIC

PBS America – Weeknights at 8.30 pm from Monday 16 November

Freeview 91, Sky 174, Freesat 155 & Virgin Media 273 | Twitter: @PBSAmerica

Award-winning Ken Burns’s latest collaboration with PBS is a sweeping sixteen-hour documentary series that captures every aspect of country music from its American hillbilly roots in hard times and its unifying force across the racial divide of segregation to its present-day popularity – featuring trailblazing stars across its history from The Carter Family to Johnny Cash and present-day superstars Dolly Parton and Garth Brooks.

The landmark series chronicles 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 series follows the evolution of country music over the course of US 20th century history 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 series 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.”

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 series 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 epicentre of the country music industry, but Music City USA.

At the heart of the series are the stories of unforgettable songs and the artists who created them: their emergence 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.

Duncan, Burns and producer Julie 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.

COUNTRY MUSIC is a production of Florentine Films and WETA, Washington, DC. Directed by Ken Burns, written by Dayton Duncan, and produced by Duncan, Julie Dunfey and Burns. It marks the latest production in a long history of Burns’ collaboration with PBS: past films include Vietnam, The Civil War and Jazz.

Country Music is sponsored by Tennessee Department of Tourist Development Twitter: @TNVacation | #MadeInTN

About PBS America

PBS America is the UK home of television America’s Public Broadcasting Service, available on Freeview 91, Freesat 155, Virgin 273 and Sky 174. Our UK team curates a rich and varied schedule of high-quality documentaries. The channel is host to landmark series by legendary filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick (such as The Vietnam War, The Civil War and Jazz). FRONTLINE’s in-depth current affairs investigations are America’s longest-running series of its kind. NOVA is America’s most-watched science strand and PBS’s history strand American Experience brings to life the characters and epic stories that have shaped America’s past and present.


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