Ken Burns To Release 8-Part Film ‘Country Music’ Due Out This September

A full 16 hours from the master documentarian will show the long History of Country Music, from the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Charley Pride, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Garth Brooks and many many more.

© PBS.org / Sony Music Archive

PBS has announced that they’ll be releasing a new mega documentary series this fall called COUNTRY MUSIC, a Ken Burns eight-part special that will trace the long and storied history of one of the roots of American music.

Burns is once again paired with Dayton Duncan and Julie Dunfe and the trio will premier their work starting Sunday, September 15 with four episodes showing in four nights, then picking up again for four more nights starting Sunday, September 22.

The documentary, written by Duncan, who also wrote the illustrated companion book (coming from Alfred A. Knopf on September 10), 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 Texas, California’s honky-tonks and Nashville’s “Grand Ole 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.”

Trailers for the film are available here or watch below.

Also happening along with this release will be a full campaign “exploring the history and music through screenings and discussions will take place in more than 30 markets across the country leading up to the film’s premiere” which has not fully been announced yet. But to start, they’ll be bringing a bus along Tennessee Music Pathways with stops and events with local stations and other partners in Cookeville, Bristol, Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville, with a special concert at The Ryman Auditorium that will be recorded for broadcast later this in the year. The lineup confirmed for the concert is a doozy for country music fans, too Dierks Bentley, Rosanne Cash, Rodney Crowell, Rhiannon Giddens, Vince Gill, Brenda Lee, Kathy Mattea, Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show, Ricky Skaggs, Marty Stuart, Asleep at the Wheel, Holly Williams, and Dwight Yoakam.

Here’s a bit more from the press release about what the various episodes will be showing us…

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 film 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 per usual, the documentary team of Duncan, Burns and Dunfey spent a lot of time researching and producing the film, noted as having conducted interviews with more than 100 people, including 40 members of the Country Music Hall of Fame (17 of those interviewed have since passed on). And the entire thing will be available as a huge soundtrack, interactive website, and available for FREE to stream.

Check out the trailers promoting the series below.

Marty Stuart on the Mystery of Songwriting | Country Music | PBS

Marty Stuart on The Mother Church of Country Music | Country Music | PBS

Rosanne Cash Reflects on ‘Walk the Line’ | Country Music | PBS