(Check your local listings)
Go inside one of the greatest-ever untold stories: how the ordinary people of America were given the opportunity to make records for the first time. This three-part film, executive produced by Jack White, Robert Redford and T Bone Burnett, melds space, time and technology to reveal the raw roots of American music. Tracing the odyssey of the first recording teams, from the gritty streets of Memphis to the Texas plains and the islands of Hawaii, American Epic captures the breathtaking variety and excitement of their discoveries.
Musicians featured include Jack White, Nas, Taj Mahal, The Carter Family, Mississippi John Hurt, the Memphis Jug Band, Elder Burch, Dick Justice, Charley Patton, Son House, Joseph Kekuku, Lydia Mendoza, and the Cajun Breaux Family.
“The Big Bang”
Premieres Tuesday, May 16 at 9pm on PBS (check local listings)
At the height of the Roaring Twenties, music scouts armed with cutting-edge recording technology set out across America to capture the unknown voices of everyday folk. The recordings they made captured the country’s diversity—artistically, ethnically, geographically and economically. As told by music pioneers, their families and eyewitnesses, travel back in time to the "Big Bang" of modern popular music with the Carter Family, Will Shade and the Memphis Jug Band. Everyday Americans heard their own music for the first time, pure and unadulterated—a democratic revolution that would reverberate around the world. Musicians featured: The Carter Family, the Memphis Jug Band, Charlie Musselwhite, Jack White, Nas, and Taj Mahal. One hour.
“Blood & Soil”
Premieres Tuesday, May 23 at 9pm on PBS (check local listings)
From the sanctified shout of the gospel church to the coal mines of West Virginia to the cotton fields of Mississippi, music provided relief from tough lives and hard times. New rhythms were born in the echoes of stomping feet, the bite of pick-axes and the ambling gait of tired mules. Almost a century later, the quest for singers remembered only as vague names on battered shellac discs brings those stories back to life. Musicians featured: Elder J.E. Burch, Dick Justice, the Williamson Brothers and Curry, Charley Patton, Son House, Robert Lockwood, Honeyboy Edwards, Homesick James, and Taj Mahal. One hour.
“Out of the Many, the One”
Premieres Tuesday, May 30 at 9pm on PBS (check local listings)
Exotic cultures spanning America are captured on record for the first time–inventing new instruments and new cultural identities as disparate voices harmonize in a musical melting pot. The myriad threads of America’s musical tapestry include Hopi priests traveling to Washington to defend their sacred snake dance; an 11-year-old Hawaiian boy who invents the steel guitar; a teenage Tejana shaking the border with a ferocious feminist tango learned from a gum wrapper; the fightingest frères on the bayou turning a lament for a pretty blonde into the Cajun national anthem; and a gentle Delta farmer who sings a nostalgic song of his hometown and inspires the greatest rediscovery of the ’60s folk revival. Musicians featured: the Hopi Indian Chanters, Joseph Kekuku, Lydia Mendoza, the Breaux Frères, Mississippi John Hurt, Taj Mahal, Cyril Pahinui, and Louis Michot. 90 minutes.
The American Epic Sessions
Premieres Tuesday, June 6 at 8pm on PBS (check local listings)
Jack White and T Bone Burnett produce an epic recording session using the only working 1920s recording device in existence in this tribute to the artists celebrated in the American Epic documentary series. The recording device is timed by a weight-driven system of clockwork gears. Stripped of the comforts and security of modern technology, the artists have three minutes and one chance to get their music etched into the surface of a revolving wax disc before the weight hits the floor.
Conceived as a sonic experiment—an attempt to recreate the conditions of the early record company field teams—the result is a series of career-topping performances by top artists pushed to meet the standards of their heroes. Going back to basics and capturing the energy of a unique live performance, these recordings are heard exactly as they were made.
Musicians featured: Alabama Shakes, The Americans, Ana Gabriel, Ashley Monroe, The Avett Brothers, Beck, Bettye LaVette, Bobby Ingano, Elton John, Frank Fairfield, Jerron Paxton, Los Lobos, Lost Bayou Ramblers, Nas, Pokey LaFarge, Raphael Saadiq, Rhiannon Giddens, Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, Taj Mahal, Jack White, and Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard.