Music documentary

Ken Burns’ ‘Country Music’ documentary to air on PBS


Through his lens, he made epic explorations in “Baseball”, “Prohibition” and several wars. Next year, documentary giant Ken Burns will take audiences on a 16-hour journey through “Country Music.”

The eight-part film is slated to premiere on PBS in fall 2019 and has been in the works for six years. It’s only Burns’ second project to focus on a musical genre, following 2001’s “Jazz.”

So how did Burns, a self-proclaimed “child of rock ‘n’ roll,” end up in the realm of Johnny Cash, the Grand Ole Opry and Bill Monroe? He brings up an anecdote from “Jazz,” when Charlie Parker played country records on the jukebox and told his bandmates, “Listen to the stories.”

“Country music is just the perfect subject,” Burns says. “Because (songwriter) Harlan Howard said it, ‘It’s three chords and the truth.’ It doesn’t have the sophistication and elegance of jazz, but what it does have are essential human emotions and told stories, basically, that everyone experiences. When someone says, “I don’t I’m not into country,” we just say, “OK, look.’ “

Country artists and the classic songs they wrote and recorded are at the heart of “country music”. Over 100 interviews were conducted for the project, many with prominent country musicians, songwriters and industry figures. The list includes Marty Stuart, Rosanne Cash, Vince Gill, Reba McEntire, Dwight Yoakam, Kris Kristofferson and Naomi and Wynonna Judd.

Burns says Stuart and Cash have a particularly prominent presence in the film, and the exclusive clips shared with USA TODAY NETWORK illustrate why.


Rosanne Cash Talks About the Meaning of Johnny Cash’s Song “I Walk the Line”

An excerpt from the documentary “Country Music” by Ken Burns on PBS

Cash, an accomplished artist in her own right, shares the reason her father, Johnny Cash, wrote “I Walk the Line.” And Stuart recalls how crucial it was for an artist to go on stage at the Grand Ole Opry.

“It was almost like a badge of honor that you had to bring your culture with you to the table,” he says onscreen. “…Willie Nelson brought his poetry from Texas, Patsy Cline brought her heartache from Virginia. I mean, it was the most wonderful parade of sons and daughters in America, bringing their hearts and their souls and their experiences, and that gave us a great time in country music.”

The story of country’s evolution is also fascinating, from its beginnings as “hillbilly music” to its first recordings and broadcasts – and how listeners across the country subsequently took the genre into countless new directions, from bluegrass to western swing and rockabilly.

“Defining (country music) has been something that’s been debated and debated from the start, and we accept that,” says Dayton Duncan, the film’s writer and co-producer. “Part of our motivation is to try to answer this question: ‘What is country music?’ I guess if we have an answer—and I think we’re more interested in pursuing that question than necessarily answering it—it’s not a the music. It’s a lot of different music.”

“Country Music” was directed by Ken Burns and produced by Burns, Dayton Duncan and Julie Dunfey. It will air on PBS in the fall of 2019.

KEN BURNS FILM: Nashville offers incentives for country music documentary total $375,000

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