Ken Burns and his longtime producing partner and writer Dayton Duncan have been spending a lot of time in Nashville lately. Burns even presented at the 2013 Americana Honors and Awards show. Now it’s official as to why. News today from the Television Critics Association Winter Tour in Pasadena that Burns will deliver to PBS stations in 2018 a new documentary on country music. From the release, 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, 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.”
Full release below.
PASADENA, CA; JANUARY 20, 2014 – PBS today announced at the Television Critics Association a new addition to the Ken Burns pipeline, COUNTRY MUSIC. The film will air in 2018. Later in the day, Burns will preview a clip from the film at a panel discussion focusing on several of his films, including THE ADDRESS, THE ROOSEVELTS, JACKIE ROBINSON and VIETNAM.
Directed and produced by Burns, and written and produced by Burns’s longtime producing partner Dayton Duncan, 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, 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.
“For over a century, country music has been a pivotal force in American culture, expressing the hopes, joys, fears and hardships of everyday people in songs lyrical, poignant and honest,” said PBS President Paula A. Kerger. “It is fitting that we have two of America’s master storytellers, Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan, tell the story on film of an art form that for generations has told America’s story in song.”
COUNTRY MUSIC will be a multi-episode series, exploring 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, COUNTRY MUSIC will tell unforgettable stories — stories of the hardships and joys shared by everyday people.
The series will trace 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 will explore 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.
COUNTRY MUSIC will follow 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 will highlight 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.
Burns and Duncan are the Emmy-award winning creators of PBS’ 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.
COUNTRY MUSIC is a production of Florentine Films and WETA Washington, DC, and is directed by Ken Burns. Funding for COUNTRY MUSIC is provided by Bank of America; the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation; Public Broadcasting Service; Corporation for Public Broadcasting and members of the Better Angels Society.