Country Music will chronicle 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, we will follow the evolution of country music over the course of the twentieth century, as it eventually emerged to become America’s music.
It will be directed and produced by Ken Burns; written and produced by Dayton Duncan—Emmy-award winning creators of PBS’s most-acclaimed and most-watched documentaries for more than a quarter century, including The Civil War, Lewis & Clark, Baseball, Jazz, The War, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, and many more.
Like our award-winning film Jazz, it will be a multi-episode series, exploring the question, “What is country music?” while focusing on the biographies of the fascinating characters 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. And like themusic itself, Country Music will tell unforgettable stories—stories of the hardships and joys shared by everyday people.
We will trace its origins in minstrel music, ballads, hymns, and the blues and its early years when it was called “hillbilly music” played across the airwaves on radio station “barn dances.” We will see how Hollywood B movies instituted the fad of “singing cowboys” like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, and watch 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. We’ll follow the rise of bluegrass music with Bill Monroe and we’ll note how one of country music’s offspring—rockabilly—mutated into rock and roll in Memphis. And we’ll see how Nashville slowly became not just the mecca of country music, but “Music City USA.” All the while, we will note 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.