Rooted in ballads, blues and hymns, country music is a distinctly American genre that evolved over the course of the twentieth century. Ken Burns’ new 16-hour documentary series, COUNTRY MUSIC, explores the stories, people, songs, and places that have defined country music – including Chicago’s own National Barn Dance.
COUNTRY MUSIC, directed by Burns, along with writer and co-producer Dayton Duncan and producer Julie Dunfrey, will air on WTTW11, wttw.com/watch, and the PBS video app on Sunday, September 15 and 22 at 7:00 pm, and Monday-Wednesday, September 16-18 and September 23-25 at 8:00 pm.
Audiences can also visit WTTW’s newly created website, wttw.com/countrymusic, for related stories, a photo gallery, an interactive episode guide, video, and other web extras, plus a place to watch the series. Also, users will be able to enter WTTW’s drawing for a trip for two to Nashville, a country music getaway that will include two tickets to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
“A new film from Ken Burns is always a big event, and WTTW is excited to share his newest: the unforgettable story, told as only Ken can, of a uniquely American art form,” said Lisa Tipton, head of programming and pledge for WTTW. “We are dedicated to providing our audiences with the highest quality content while making the arts accessible to everyone. This series, and our new COUNTRY MUSIC website, does both.”
“We discovered that country music isn’t – and never was – one type of music; it actually is many styles,” said Dayton Duncan. Read WTTW’s exclusive interview. “What unites them all is the way the music connects personal stories and elemental experiences with universal themes that every person can relate to. And as it evolved, it created a special bond between the artists and fans that is unique among all other musical genres.”
COUNTRY MUSIC traces the evolution of country music by focusing on the venues, events, and trailblazers that shaped it – such as Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Sr. and Dolly Parton. The series features interviews with more than 100 people, including 40 members of the Country Music Hall of Fame (17 of those interviewed have since passed on). Among those storytellers are historian Bill Malone and a wide range of country artists including Marty Stuart, Rosanne Cash, Vince Gill, Reba McEntire, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Dwight Yoakam, Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson, and Naomi and Wynonna Judd, as well as studio musicians, record producers, and others.
The series also delves into Chicago’s own often-forgotten country music heritage through the story of its popular radio program WLS Barn Dance, later renamed National Barn Dance. Running every Saturday night for two separate two-hour shows from 1924 until 1968, it featured some of the country’s biggest names, including Bob Atcher (who later became the Mayor of Schaumburg), Pat Buttram, Gene Autry, The Hoosier Hotshots, Rex Allen, and many others.
The COUNTRY MUSIC series will kick off with a live concert hosted by Burns from the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, featuring performances by popular artists Dierks Bentley, Rosanne Cash, Rhiannon Giddens, Vince Gill, Kathy Mattea, Marty Stuart, Dwight Yoakam and more, as well as exclusive footage and highlights from the series. COUNTRY MUSIC: LIVE ON THE RYMAN, A CONCERT CELEBRATING THE FILM BY KEN BURNS will air on WTTW11 and at wttw.com/countrymusic on Sunday, September 8 at 7:00 pm and 9:00 pm.
WTTW is the PBS member station in Chicago, committed to creating and presenting unique media content across distinct television and digital channels – WTTW11, WTTW Prime, WTTW Create/WTTW World, WTTW PBS Kids 24/7, wttw.com and the PBS/WTTW video app. Recognized for award-winning journalism and local productions such as Chicago Tonight, Chicago River Tour, Check, Please!, digital-first series Urban Nature and Foodphiles and national productions 10 That Changed America and Nature Cat, WTTW presents the very best in public affairs, arts and culture, nature and science, history and documentary, and children’s public media content. Connect with WTTW on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.