Ken Burns on Why He Chose Country Music for His Next Film Project
Ken Burns is one of America's most prolific film producers known for award-winning documentaries like "The Civil Way", "Baseball" and "Our National Parks". He visited with us and explained why he chose country music as his next film project.
Ken Burns - "I'm always looking for great stories in American history and this is one of the best stories I know. Country music, which we tend to think of in a narrow category, as you know is a very very wide subject...that subject deals with universal human themes of love and loss and joy and all sorts of stuff. That's what I'm interested in telling...great stories in American history".
His documentary on baseball in part explored the struggle of Jackie Robinson as he broke through the color barrier. Ken also believes that country music plays a role in America's race relations.
Ken Burns - "Well, that's interesting because I think race is part of the American story. We don't always don't want to deal with it. And, we always don't...country music, we think that it's just purely a white music, but the banjo comes from Africa. Of the early great stars of country music...the Carter family, Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams, Bill Monroe and Johnny Cash all had either African American mentors who took their chops from here to there or in the case of Jimmie Rodgers were influenced entirely by African American music."
Much of Ken's new documentary about country music pays tribute to the strong women who were early stars of the format like Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette and Patsy Cline. Ken shared that it wasn't always easy to find interviews and photos from that era.
Ken Burns - "Well, we have to do a lot of hunter gathering. It's not always easy to find photos and footage and interviews that we need. But, we find them. I think the biggest point is that in essentially white and male-dominated music industry...how many strong women there were in country from the very beginning".
One quote from Ken's new project involves the fact that country music will have to periodically remind itself who it really is. He believes this younger generation is rediscovering that heritage.
Ken Burns - "I think there's always been periods in country's history when it's looked forward, it's been experimental and tended to forget where it came from. As country music folks would say 'don't get above your raising'. Some people would worry that country music was beginning to stray from those roots and those traditions. But, just as soon as that worry is expressed, it all comes back and people start doing it."
Country Music: A Film By Ken Burns debuts on PBS this Sunday night, September 15. We cannot recommend it highly enough. It's truly a must-see for anyone that loves country music past and present.