Ken Burns’ Country Music: The Civil War Between Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

The Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, c.1960. Photograph by Les Leverett The Blue Ridge Mountains extend from just north of Atlanta to just west of Gettysburg, and through the green valleys on the ridge’s western flank marched Union and Confederate armies to some of the Civil War’s most pivotal battles: Chickamauga, Chattanooga, Cedar Creek, Antietam and Gettysburg. Filmmaker Ken Burns brought those battles to life in his 1990 documentary series The Civil War. It’s still his most popular film, even more than 1994’s Baseball, 2001’s Jazz or 2017’s The Vietnam War. Burns returns to those same oak-carpeted slopes in his new series Country Music, something of a sequel to The Civil War. In Bristol, Tennessee, near the mountain range’s midpoint, the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers made their first recordings in 1927 and launched modern country music. From the nearby hills came such seminal figures as the Stanley Brothers, Earl Scruggs, Ricky Skaggs, Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn. “I grew up in the Shenandoah Valley,” Old Crow Medicine Show’s Ketch Secor tells me, “a place heavy with the history of the Civil War. Ken’s film really impacted me at about age 12; he made my own backyard…

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