Willie Nelson featured in Ken Burns’, “Country Music” on PBS (Sept. 15th)

Tune in or Stream Sunday, September 15 at 8/7c

Explore the history of a uniquely American art form: country music. From its deep and tangled roots in ballads, blues and hymns performed in small settings, to its worldwide popularity, learn how country music evolved over the course of the 20th century, as it eventually emerged to become America’s music.

Country Music features never-before-seen footage and photographs, plus interviews with more than 80 country music artists. The eight-part 16-hour series is directed and produced by Ken Burns; written and produced by Dayton Duncan; and produced by Julie Dunfey.

Country Music explores questions –– such as “What is country music?” and “Where did it come from?“–– while focusing on the biographies of the fascinating characters who created and shaped it — from the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers 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.

No one has told the story this way before.


Ken Burns’ ‘Country Music’ is right on key (review)

by: Bruce R. Miller


It’s the songs, stupid.

That’s what makes country music so popular. Able to tap into emotions many feel, the songs boast “three chords and the truth” and lifetimes of experience.

In Ken Burns’ stellar documentary, “Country Music,” we learn how the genre started, how it blossomed and how it’s faring, even now when overnight sensations are expected. Spread over 16 hours, the series gets dozens of artists, managers, writers and executives to distill the music and track its growth from southern Appalachia to the world.

Interestingly, those songs incorporate all kinds of instrumentation (and rhythms), but still have strong stories at their core and, usually, a singer who’s able to emote from experience. One by one, Burns and company tick off the big names – Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family, Bill Monroe, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton – and show how they’re connected.

Country music, Burns and company contend, has a through line, one that binds its artists and fans as family. It’s easy to see how the Carters and Cash are connected (he married into the clan). But where does that leave someone like Parton or Garth Brooks? Writer Dayton Duncan does a masterful job connecting the dots and showing how an 11-year-old Marty Stuart was able to go from a local fair to the Grand Ole Opry. (Stuart vowed he was going to marry singer Connie Smith one day and, sure enough, he did.) Stuart, in fact, is the documentary’s best “witness,” able to demonstrate how sounds differed and tell stories about the folks who created them.

Parton, Brooks, Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson get to chime in on their own piece of the puzzle (they’re great storytellers, obviously), but it’s someone like Brenda Lee who has even better observational skills. In the mix with the biggest names, she was able to see what was brewing. And she’s not afraid to say Lynn led the life Tammy Wynette sang about, while Wynette lived the life Lynn chronicled.

Drugs and booze are common denominators in many stories. Relationship problems are practically a given.

Country music reflects the times (it became a salve for money-tight folks following the Depression) and becomes a pawn for big business. It also serves as a lure for The Beatles, Bob Dylan and others. And, yes, “Country Music” details all of the back and side roads.

Read rest of article here.

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