'Country Music' by Ken Burns highlights genre's influence

NEW YORK (WABC) -- He's made documentaries about the Civil War, baseball, and jazz. Now, director Ken Burns is turning his camera to country music.

His new series is a 16-hour dive into the genre that looks at how country has influenced so many other types of music.

In 1962, when Ray Charles got to record an album exactly as he wished for the first time, the legendary rhythm and blues singer chose to release a full disc of country music.

"He said you take country music, and you take black music, and you have the same G.D. thing every time," Burns said.
The African-American influence is obvious throughout his new PBS series called, "Country Music.'

"The second we got out of the shallow end, the superficial end, the conventional wisdom about country music, we'd be finding an African-American narrative," Burns said.

Or, as jazz great Wynton Marsalis makes clear in his film: "You have a lot of the opposites that create a richness."

If race is one of the threads of this story, then gender is another.

"If you want to look for super strong women telling really amazing stories, you went to country," Musician Rhiannon Giddens explains in the documentary.

Loretta Lynn tells viewers, "I mean, the songs are just life. I've seen it, or I've lived it."

You don't need to be a fan of country music to enjoy this deep dive into the genre with legends as your guide.

"It has something in it for everybody!" Dolly Parton said

Burns expanded on this, noting that country "is connected to jazz, to blues, to R&B. With rhythm and blues, it's the parent of rock 'n roll."
Die-hard country fans will also find much to love and learn here, as executives from the Country Music Association discovered when they were invited to Burns' New England studio for an early look.

"And they were to a person in a puddle of tears at the end," Burns said. "They said, 'Look, I can't believe I had to come up to New Hampshire in the wintertime, in February, to learn more about my town Nashville and more about my business.' And that made us feel really, really good."

The CMA Awards, known as country music's biggest night, will air live on ABC-TV starting at 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday, November 13.

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