Ken Burns to Tackle Country Music in Upcoming PBS Series

By Kurt Wolff

He’s done in-depth examinations on all sorts of American traditions, including baseball, jazz, national parks, the Dust Bowl and of course the Civil War. So it’s little surprise to learn that acclaimed documentarian Ken Burns is now setting his sights on country music.

According to a report published in Billboard, Burns is planning to focus on country in an upcoming series. However, it won’t be happening this year…or even the next. According to PBS, the series isn’t set to hit airwaves until 2018. Before Burns unveils his exploration of country he’s got a few more projects to attend to first, including PBS specials on the Roosevelts, Jackie Robinson, Vietnam and the Gettysburg Address (the latter is scheduled to air this spring).

Don’t expect Burns to focus, though, on today’s top stars like Taylor Swift and Luke Bryan — instead, he’s likely to aim at uncovering and exploring the early threads of the genre and how they developed. Commercial country music dates back to the early 1920s and recordings by such artists as Eck Robertson, Henry Whitter, Ernest Stoneman and Fiddlin’ John Carson; the music’s folk roots, though, are even older and in some cases reach back centuries.

Artists mentioned in relation to Burns’ upcoming project include the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, Bob Wills, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson.

Johnny Cash from 'LIFE Unseen' Johnny Cash in 1957, from ‘LIFE Unseen’ (photo courtesy LIFE Books/CRPS)

Music fans can turn to Burns’ 2001 series Jazz as an example of the approach he might take with country music. As he told Rolling Stone in an earlier interview, he wanted to show that jazz was not just for over-educated music snobs — it was and still is a music that anyone can enjoy. “It’s an incredibly accessible and utterly joyous, utterly American music out of which all the forms that now reign supreme came,” Burns said.


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