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Titles similar to Country Music
Master documentarian Burns and his stellar, longtime writer collaborator Duncan have produced another large, handsome, avidly researched volume bursting with vivid anecdotes and rare archival photographs to accompany their latest far-reaching video series, Country Music, which will air on PBS in September.
Though capacious, this fresh and redefining history is not an encyclopedia, but rather, as Burns and Duncan point out, a narrative “describing a uniquely American art form and how it grew.” The story spans the earliest person-to-person days of front-porch music-making on through each wave of technological innovation from records to radio (which created the first country stars and launched the Grand Ole Opry in 1925), movies, and TV (including Hee Haw’s 25-year reign), concluding with the superstars of the 1990s. Burns and Duncan focus on the many cross-pollinations involved in the evolution of country music, from centuries-old songs from the British Isles brought to the New World along with the fiddle and the guitar and African musical traditions and instruments, especially the banjo, to work songs, the blues, hymns, and ballads. Country shtick is a tradition, beginning with Fiddlin’ John Carson, an Atlanta factory worker who posed as a hayseed fresh off the mountain in the 1920s, and blossoming in the singing cowboy mania jump-started by Gene Autrey. More profoundly, the authors consider how country music grew out of the “depth of human tragedy in the South,” as observed by Wynton Marsalis, one of many illuminating commentators.
Decade by decade, Burns and Duncan profile such trailblazers as harmonica great DeFord Bailey, country-swing king Bob Wills, bluegrass leader Bill Monroe, the “Hillbilly Shakespeare” Hank Williams, the powerful countervailing voices of Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, and Dolly Parton, on to Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, the Judds, Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks, and so very many more, all profiled with irresistible personal photographs, letters, and interviews. This dynamic and monumental history captures the spirit, resonance, variety, and power of country music as a balm for hard times, catalyst for good times, and vibrant expression of life’s obdurate complexities. While the Country Music documentary series offers sound and motion, the book offers a still, at-your-own-pace immersion that enriches the video experience and stands steady on its own.
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