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Country Music

Episodes & Viewing Guide

Episode One — The Rub

Beginnings – 1933

See how what was first called “hillbilly music” reaches new audiences through phonographs and radio, and launches the careers of country music’s first big stars, the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers.

Episode Two — Hard Times

1933 – 1945

Watch as Nashville becomes the heart of the country music industry. The genre grows in popularity during the Great Depression and World War II as America falls in love with singing cowboys, Texas Swing and the Grand Ole Opry’s Roy Acuff.

Episode Three — The Hillbilly Shakespeare

1945 – 1953

See how the bluegrass sound spreads in post-war America, and meet honky-tonk star Hank Williams, whose songs of surprising emotional depth are derived from his troubled and tragically short life.

Episode Four — I Can’t Stop Loving You

1953 – 1963

Travel to Memphis, where Sun Studios artists Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley usher in the era of rockabilly. Ray Charles crosses America’s racial divide by recording a country album. Patsy Cline shows off Music City’s smooth new Nashville Sound.

Episode Five — The Sons and Daughters of America

1964 – 1968

See how country music reflects a changing America, with Loretta Lynn speaking to women everywhere, Merle Haggard becoming “The Poet of the Common Man” and audiences looking beyond race to embrace Charley Pride.

Episode Six — Will the Circle Be Unbroken?

1968 – 1972

Learn how country music responds to a nation divided by the Vietnam War, as Army captain turned songwriter Kris Kristofferson sets a new lyrical standard, and artists like Bob Dylan and the Byrds find a recording home in Nashville.

Episode Seven — Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?

1973 – 1983

Witness a vibrant era in country music, with Dolly Parton finding mainstream success; Hank Williams, Jr. and Rosanne Cash emerging from their famous fathers’ shadows; and Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings launching the “Outlaw” movement.

Episode Eight — Don’t Get Above Your Raisin

1984 – 1996

Learn how “New Traditionalists” like George Strait, Randy Travis and the Judds help country music stay true to its roots. Witness both the rise of superstar Garth Brooks and the return of an aging Johnny Cash to the industry he helped create.


An Interview with the Writer and Producer of Ken Burns’s ‘Country Music’

“Country music is a different way to look at who we are as people and what our shared history is," says Dayton Duncan, the writer and producer of Ken Burns's upcoming eight-part Country Music documentary series. "It is uniquely American in its origin."

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When Chicago Was a Center of Country Music

Chicago is well-known for music: electric blues, gospel, jazz, house. For a couple decades, it was also home to one of the United States' most popular country music radio shows, a program that launched the careers of stars and may have inspired the Grand Ole Opry.

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‘Country Music’ By Ken Burns Is Coming

He has already explored the history of jazz, and now Ken Burns turns his lens towards America's other great homegrown music in an eight-part, sixteen-hour documentary series coming this fall that explores country's history and people in Burns's trademark exhaustive manner.

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Video Extras

Thanks to our sponsors

Leadership support for the WTTW presentation of Country Music is provided by Binny’s Beverage Depot.

Major support is provided by the Pritzker Military Museum & Library, Rita and John Canning, and Jamee and Marshall Field with additional support from Henry Berghoef and Leslie Lauer Berghoef.