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Ken Burns’ ‘Country Music’ Documentary: Artists, Episodes & Where to Watch

By Maxim Mower

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Ken Burns has built a reputation for being one of the most incisive and astute documentary-makers of our generation. Through his expansive repertoire of films, Burns has tackled topics that range from Muhammad Ali and Ernest Hemingway, to the Prohibition and the Civil War.

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In his 2019 project, Country Music, he turned his illuminating spotlight onto the origins, complexities and idiosyncrasies of country music. Over the course of eight episodes, totalling around 16 hours, Burns explores the roots of one of America's most popular musical genres, before taking the viewer on a journey through all the key moments in its history.

Burns begins the docuseries by highlighting the glue that unifies all of country music - the art of storytelling. Whether this is Loretta Lynn's gritty realism of ‘Coal Miner's Daughter’ or Willie Nelson's Wild West escapism of ‘Red Headed Stranger’, Burns underlines that country music has always had a unique ability to tell the stories of everyday folk - whether they were herding cattle at a ranch in Texas or pushing paper in upstate New York.

In order to compile the series, Burns spoke to a number of country's biggest names, including the likes of Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, Rosanne Cash and more.

The series also offers a biographical run-down of artists that have helped to direct country music's path, including icons such as The Carter Family, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline and Charley Pride.

A key turning point that Ken Burns’ Country Music covers is the radio boom of the 1920s, which helped to transform what was once dismissed as ‘hillbilly music’ into the nation-spanning, culture-shaping colossus that country music is today.

Along with the series, Ken Burns and the show's producer, Dayton Duncan, created an accompanying ‘illustrated history’ book. The hefty, in-depth volume is a country aficionado's dream, and offers a suite of additional nuggets of information that take the viewer deeper than the series.

For the full list of episodes, see below:

Episode 1 - ‘The Rub’ (Beginnings - 1933)

Episode 2 - ‘Hard Times’ (1933 - 1945)

Episode 3 - ‘The Hillbilly Shakespeare’ (1945 - 1953)

Episode 4 - ‘I Can't Stop Loving You’ (1953 - 1963)

Episode 5 - ‘The Sons and Daughters of America’ (1964 - 1968)

Episode 6 - ‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken?‘ (1968 - 1972)

Episode 7 - ‘Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?’ (1973 - 1983)

Episode 8 - ‘Don't Get Above Your Raisin’’ (1984 - 1996)

Ken Burns’ Country Music is available to stream now on PBS, which can be accessed through Amazon Prime Video. For UK viewers, every episode except the first can be streamed via BBC iPlayer.