Filmmaker Ken Burns, a four-time Emmy Award-winner and two-time Oscar nominee, has forged a distinguished career through the unflinching documentation of American history and culture.
From the Vietnam War, our National Parks, and the Statue of Liberty, to jazz, baseball, Jackie Robinson and the Central Park Five, Burns and his longtime collaborators Dayton Duncan and Julie Dunfey explore our world in ways that inform, entertain and captivate.
Next up is the colorful and compelling PBS series, “Country Music,” an eight-part, 16 hour film premiering Sunday, Sept. 15 through Wednesday, Sept. 18, and Sunday, Sept. 22 through Wednesday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m.- 10 p.m. on WHYY.
PBS states that the documentary, written by Duncan, 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 of Texas, California’s honky-tonks and Nashville’s Grand Old 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 the questions, “What is country music?” and “Where did it come from?” while focusing on the biographies of the trailblazers who shaped it, including Charley Pride, the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, Bill Monroe, Bob Wills, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Garth Broooks, among others, as well as the times in which they lived.
“You can dance to it, you can make love to it, you can play it at a funeral — it has something in it for everybody,” eight-time Grammy-winner Dolly Parton states in the thought-provoking piece.
“I believe that you can go and look and find a country song that will help you feel better,” said three-time Grammy winner Charley Pride. “Sometime it might make you cry, but you’ll feel better.”
In a recent “Today” interview with Craig Melvin and Carson Daly, Burns, who was accompanied by country music star Vince Gill stated, “This is American history firing on all cylinders. It’s who we are. It’s another way to see the 20th century. It’s also, for today, a time where we can bring ourselves together. Country music reminds us we’re all in the same boat together. The themes of a country song are the themes of human experience of love and loss — two four-letter words that most of us are uncomfortable with. We disguise it and say it’s about good old boys, and pickup trucks and hound dogs, and six-packs of beer. That’s a small, tiny little sub-zone. When you hear ‘Go Rest High on that Mountain’ by Vince (Gill), he says, ‘At the end of the day, all I ever wanted from music was to be moved.’
“Country music, at its heart, is telling us about basic human experiences, and that we’re all together in this. That there’s only ‘us’ and no ‘them,’ and that’s good medicine right now.”
Burns and Gill make numerous references to the contributions of African Americans and women to the development and evolution of country music.
“There’s a huge African-American component. The banjo is from Africa, and the fiddle is from Europe and the British Isles,” Burns said.
“The first lead guitar player in the history of country music was a woman, Mother Maybelle Carter,” Gill added.
Perry Simon, PBS chief programming executive and general manager, general audience Programming, said in a statement, “As with so many of their films, Ken and Dayton guide us on a journey through history that educates and entertains, providing an intimate look into the creative lives of those women and men who came together to develop an authentic American art form.”