Music documentary

The most comprehensive bluegrass musical documentary ever made will air on PBS in August

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Big family: the history of bluegrass music offers a comprehensive look at bluegrass – its origins, the pioneers who shaped its sound, and its global appeal. The documentary, narrated by actor and bluegrass enthusiast Ed Helms, will air nationally on PBS stations Friday, August 30, 2019 at 9/8pm ET. Check local listings.

The film charts the genre’s history – depicting how Scottish-Irish and African-American influences led Bill Monroe to develop the distinct musical genre into its entrenchment in popular culture through television and film.

At the heart of the two-hour film is the music itself, as recordings and performance footage showcase and celebrate its unique sound. Over 50 musicians appear in the film, including Alison Brown, Dale Ann Bradley, Sam Bush, JD Crowe, Bela Fleck, Laurie Lewis, Del McCoury, Bobby Osborne, Ricky Skaggs, Chris Thile and many more.

Using archival and contemporary photos, footage and recordings, the film also chronicles how bluegrass music has evolved through American culture and politics, revealing that the history of bluegrass music is America’s history.

Big family begins by exploring the life of Bill Monroe, who moved with his brothers from the small town of Rosine, Ky., to Chicago to find work, as many others did in the 1930s. Monroe debuted on WLS, at the time Chicago’s largest radio station. When Monroe moved from Chicago to Nashville, he became a hit on the Grand Ole Opry stage and cemented his place in music history as the “father of bluegrass.”

The film then explores the impact of the Great Depression, World War II, the Civil Rights Movement and more on the genre, including the creation of offshoots of bluegrass, such as newgrass in the 1970s.

Viewers will travel from Monroe’s hometown of Rosine – with a population of around 100 – to downtown Tokyo, where members of Bluegrass 45, a popular contemporary Japanese bluegrass band, will demonstrate how music not only transcends generations, but also cultural and geographical boundaries.

The documentary also features scenes from the week-long IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association) World of Bluegrass and FreshGrass Festival events in North Adams, Mass., as well as archival footage from the long-running Americana music series. nationally distributed from KET. Jubilee.

Additionally, Big family explores the role of women in bluegrass music and shares the stories of some of the genre’s most famous musicians, who discuss how they work together to create what Berklee College of Music’s Darol Anger in the film calls a “sound magical, huge and powerful”.

More information is available at

Big family: the history of bluegrass music is a KET production, made possible in part by the KET Endowment for Kentucky Productions. It is produced by Matt Grimm and Nick Helton and written by Teresa Day. The consulting producer is Craig Cornwell. Executive producers are Shae Hopkins, Linda Randulfe Marquez and Nancy Southgate.