5 Takeaways From Ken Burns’ ‘Country Music’ Documentary, Episode 3
Ken Burns' Country Music documentary addresses the entire history of country music, but Episode 3 specifically covers a turning point at which the music took a permanent turn from being acoustic-based toward being based in electric instruments. It's perhaps the point that led to modern country music more than any other, led by Hank Williams. The episode takes its title from Williams' unofficial moniker, "The Hillbilly Shakespeare."
It was the late 1940s and early 1950s, and America was undergoing a number of changes in terms of wars, economics, race relations and more. Against that backdrop, country music was taking a turn toward a more aggressive sound called honky tonk, as evidenced by Williams' hit song, "Honky Tonkin'." The music had a new energy that was exemplified by electric instruments that were amplified, and therefore able to cut through some of the noise and clutter of live shows that were becoming more and more fraught with an edge of potential trouble.
"Men had been to war. Women had been to work. The divorce rate was hitting record levels," the documentary asserts. "Songs that dealt openly about cheating and drinking — topics once considered beyond the pale of respectability — were as popular as songs wIth more traditional themes."
The new sound originated in Texas and Oklahoma before spreading to California, from there reaching the industrial northern cities. It emphasized twangy electric guitars and electric bass in addition to a more driving beat, cutting through some of the noise of beer halls where fights were becoming more and more commonplace. But Williams' approach was more universal, relying on an Everyman persona that connected with ordinary people everywhere.
Charlie Daniels, Rodney Crowell, Marty Stuart, Willie Nelson, Ricky Skaggs and more are among the artists who contribute their personal recollections and observations to Episode 3 of Country Music, which chronicles the entire history of one of America's only true original art forms.
The remaining episodes of Country Music will air on Sept. 18 and Sept. 22-25. All episodes are airing at 8PM ET on PBS and are also available on the PBS video app and PBS.org.
5 Takeaways From Ken Burns' Country Music Documentary, Episode 3:
THIS CONTENT BROUGHT TO YOU IN PARTNERSHIP WITH COUNTRY MUSIC ON PBS.