Sep 15, 2019

Ken Burns' "Country Music" focuses on trailblazing women

A picture of a country music hall concert.

Courtesy PBS

"Country Music" — an epic film about a true American art form and women's role in the industry, from the great Ken Burns — begins tonight at 8 ET on PBS and streaming.

What we know: The film features 3,200 photographs and interviews with more than 100 people, including 40 members of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

  • 20 of those interviewed have since passed on.
  • Women's history with country music is emphasized in the series, highlighting trailblazers like Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline.
  • "Country Music," split into 8 episodes totaling 16½ hours, features more than 2 hours of original archival footage, including never-aired photos and footage of Jimmie Rodgers, Johnny Cash and others.

In an interview with "PBS NewsHour," Burns talked about the film's emphasis on women:

[W]omen are central to this story in a way they aren't in jazz or other forms, which are fraternities. ... When you get through Patsy [Cline] to Loretta [Lynn], we're in the mid-'60s. Nobody in rock 'n' roll is singing, "Don't come home a drinking with loving on your mind." Think about what we're talking about — spousal abuse, spousal rape, a woman's right to her own body, even in marriage, women's rights in general. Now, this is the same year that the National Organization for Women is founded [1966]. ... For me, all of these things, race or creativity or commerce or women, are all trumped by how powerful this music is. ... I mean, when Hank Williams says, "I'm so lonesome, I could cry," there's nobody that doesn't know what he's talking about. "The silence of a falling star lights up a purple sky, and as I wonder where you are, I'm so lonesome, I could cry."

See the trailer.

  • Share your #FavoriteCountrySong: A social campaign kicked off with videos from famous artists sharing theirs.
  • After tonight, the film continues at 8 ET each night through Wednesday, then the same 4 nights next week.
Johnny Cash at home in California in 1960. Photo: Sony Music Archives via PBS
Johnny Cash at home in California in 1960. Photo: Sony Music Archives via PBS

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