Legendary filmmaker Ken Burns celebrates ‘Country Music’ in new docu-series


Legendary documentary filmmaker Ken Burns is turning his lens on Music City. 

Known for his documentaries on various aspects of American history, Burns has created dozens of widely celebrated, in-depth looks at everything from baseball to national parks to war.

Burns rolled into the Country Music Hall of Fame on Wednesday to promote his latest documentary series, Country Music, which premieres on PBS later this year. 

The 16-hour documentary chronicles the history of country music from founders like The Carter Family and Bob Wills to classic country icons like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn.

Burns and his colleagues spent eight years researching and producing the film, conducting interviews with more than 100 people. Of those interviews, 40 are members of the Country Music Hall of Fame, and 17 people that have since passed away. 

Several artists featured in the film, including Marty Stuart, attended the CMHOF press conference with Burns and Nashville Mayor David Briley.

These guys come into town it was like the Calvary came to shore up the roots of country music — to entertain and to educate an entirely different generation of people into the world of country music, Stuart explained to the crowd.

Stuart, Dierks Bentley and Vince Gill are among the star-studded lineup performing a concert Wednesday night in conjunction with the film.

I see country music as a culture that belongs alongside jazz and classical music and ballet — you know, all forms of the upper end of the art pantheon, Stuard said. This series takes us there. It puts us in line with the national parks, with the Roosevelts, with Mark Twain, with baseball.

Country and bluegrass singer Ricky Skaggs talked to the crowd about what he walked away with after viewing two hours of the series.

Does culture influence music or does music influence culture? Skagg said. That was one of the things that I really walked away with there, and I think both [are] true, both [are] true.

The city contributed $325,000 to the film’s budget, according to the mayor’s office. The resolution passed by Metro Council said this is a once in a generation promotional vehicle and business recruitment tool for Nashville. 

Burns’ docu-series is expected to garner more than 30 million viewers — and that’s just during its initial broadcast. It is also anticipated to impact the cultural tourism growth in Nashville by highlighting local artists, locations and the history of music in Music City.

More than anything, in arousing the kind of financial interest — Nashville, it’s already there, Burns told the crowd. We met people today that are taking their spring break here. They are not sitting on some beach. They are coming and immersing themselves in country music.

Tonight’s concert will be filmed and will air ahead of the premiere of Burns’ Country Music on PBS in September. 

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