Music documentary

Ken Burns’ ‘Country Music’ Documentary Traces a Genre That Reflects ‘America’s History’ | The buzz

“Country Music,” filmmaker Ken Burns’ latest series of in-depth documentaries about the American experience, has the potential to bring a whole new audience into the country music fold, a country music expert said Friday.

Burns’ new documentary, which premieres Sunday on PBS, traces the origins and meaning of “the soundtrack not of the elite, but of the average, ordinary citizen,” said Don Cusic, who has served as a consultant on the documentary project. “The history of country music is the history of America.”

Local viewers can catch the program at 8 p.m. Sunday on VPM PBS.

He said Burns’ film could help dismantle condescending stereotypes about country music and its fans. People who assume the genre is only for rural listeners will be surprised, as Burns demonstrates how intertwined the history of the genre and that of the nation is.

“It’s like going to college in country music,” he said of the documentary. “A lot of people in this country don’t like country music. I think it’s going to be an eye opener for them.

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Cusic, who is the Curb Professor of Music Industry History at Belmont University, is the author of numerous books on country music, including “Nashville Sound: An Illustrated Timeline,” and its stars, including Gene Autry, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and Eddy Arnold. He is also a songwriter and record producer.

Country music fans already know the power of the genre to reach listeners everywhere, from the depth of grief to the exuberance of the dance floor.

“There’s a country song for every mood you’re in,” Cusic said. “It’s emotional music.”

Heartbreaking highlights from the film include the untimely deaths of singers Patsy Cline and Hank Williams and their lasting influence on the genre.

The rise of country is tied to significant times of change in American life, including the emergence and prevalence of radio, which brought the musical genre to living rooms across the country. “Radio came of age in the 1930s, and that’s when country music came of age,” Cusic said.

Radical cultural changes after the Great Depression and World War II included major migrations to metropolitan areas. People who moved to cities for new opportunities often missed the rhythm and values ​​of rural life, and country songs on the radio brought back those memories.

“You looked back on those country roots, and it gave you comfort,” Cusic said.

Country music has also played a major role in the history of jukeboxes. Many venues couldn’t afford to hire bands every night, but they could make a wide variety of musicians available to their patrons at the flick of a switch and at the push of a button. “It’s who bought records when people weren’t buying records,” Cusic said.

For consultant Cusic, “Country Music” offers some overdue credit for a genre that hasn’t always gotten the respect it deserved.

“Country music history is a fight for respect,” Cusic said, adding that the fact that Burns created a new film about the genre itself reflects a level of respect. “It’s the music I grew up with, and it’s finally coming to an end.”