Country Music: Ken Burns, PBS

Can The Circle Be Unbroken?

Country Music.Ken BurnsSixteen hours of the history of country music. I watched it all. Some bits of it I knew about, but I learned a lot, especially the parts before I was born. It starts with the 1920s when the birth of radio and the growth of the phonograph record propelled country/hillbilly music as well as other musical genres.

The beginning of the Grand Ole Opry is outlined. The documentary posits that there were two early giants of country music, the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. Rodgers brought forth the yodel in recorded music, often replicated by others for decades. The second episode, “Hard Times (1933-1945),” touches on Gene Autry and Bob Wills.

Oddly, it was the story about the creation of the music licensing entity BMI that was a big revelation for me. It was “founded by a group of radio industry leaders meeting in September 1939 at the National Association of Broadcasters annual convention in Chicago. The move [was] prompted by ASCAP requesting to double license fees to the radio industry…”

“Hillbilly Shakespeare 1945-1953” certainly described Hank Williams, who dominates Episode 3. Eddy Arnold and Bill Monroe are also included. Episode 4 is called “I Can’t Stop Loving You 1953-1963”, which meant that it had to mention the seemingly unlikely crossover of Ray Charles. Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson, and early Elvis are some of the others highlighted.

The parts I remember

“The Sons and Daughters Of America (1964-1968)” is the title of Episode 5. Loretta Lynn, Charlie Pride, Merle Haggard, and Roger Miller are among the stars. The Beatles even get a mention with their Buck Owens cover. This is the period of my first recollections listening to WWVA in Wheeling, WV late at night.

Episode 6, “Will The Circle Be Unbroken (1968-1972),” gets into the period I was collecting music. More than one person I know discovered Kris Kristofferson from this show. Bob Dylan and The Byrds get coverage, as well as The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

“Are You Sure Hank Done it This Way? (1973-1983)”, in Episode 7, discusses the ongoing tension between “traditional” country and countrypolitan. Olivia Newton-John beats out Loretta Lynn for the best female artist at the CMA? Highlights include Dolly Parton, George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Hank Williams Jr, Roseanne Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Emmylou Harris.

Finally, Episode 8, “Don’t Get Above Your Raisin’ (1984-1996)”, shows the development of Ricky Scaggs, Reba McEntire, George Strait, Randy Travis, The Judds, Dwight Yoakum, and especially Garth Brooks.

Among the complaints were that Burns, et al. left out any number of artists from Jim Reeves to Linda Ronstadt, while spending too much time on Johnny Cash. I suppose this may have some legitimacy. Sometimes, for licensing, artistic, or other reasons, you work with what you have. On the other hand, Marty Stuart’s knowledge of the genre continues to amaze.

The music

There’s a five-CD set of the music mentioned in Country Music. I thought I’d link to just a handful. I’m ignoring any cuts I already own, such as tracks by JR Cash, Charles, Cline, Kristofferson, Lynn, and Williams.

Can the Circle Be Unbroken – The Carter Family
Blue Yodel No. 8 (Mule Skinner Blues) – Jimmie Rodgers
Fox Chase – DeFord Bailey, the first black at the Grand Ole Opry
Mountain Dew – Grandpa Jones and his Grandchildren; by the time Jones was on the TV show Hee Haw, he didn’t need the makeup anymore

I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart – Patsy Montana & The Prairie Ramblers
New San Antonio Rose – Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys
Wabash Cannonball – Roy Acuff
It’s Mighty Dark to Travel – Bill Monroe & his Blue Grass Boys

New Mule Skinner Blues – Maddox Brothers and Rose
Foggy Mountain Breakdown – Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs, who I first knew from The Beverly Hillbillies
It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels – Kitty Wells
Crazy Arms – Ray Price

The Long Black Veil – Lefty Frizzell; I have The Band and Mick Jagger versions of this
El Paso – Marty Robbins
Stand by Your Man – Tammy Wynette, later covered by Lyle Lovett
Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way – Waylon Jennings

Boulder to Birmingham – Emmylou Harris
Pancho and Lefty – Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson
He Stopped Loving Her Today – George Jones
Don’t Get Above Your Raisin’ – Ricky Skaggs

Somebody Should Leave – Reba McEntire
Why Not Me – The Judds
Streets of Bakersfield – Dwight Yoakam with Buck Owens
Where’ve You Been – Kathy Mattea
Go Rest High on That Mountain – Vince Gill
I Still Miss Someone – Rosanne Cash

E is for Eleanor Roosevelt

After FDR died in 1945, Eleanor Roosevelt was appointed by President Truman to be a delegate to the group that would create the United Nations.

EleanorRooseveltI watched the excellent The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, Ken Burns’s seven-part series on PBS this past fall and became even more impressed with Eleanor Roosevelt than I had been before. She was the niece of Theodore Roosevelt, the daughter of his brother Elliot.

She married her fifth cousin Franklin Roosevelt on St. Patrick’s Day 1905 in New York City, “given away” by her uncle Teddy, who was by then President.

In spite of Franklin’s marital betrayal, which wounded Eleanor greatly, they were a dynamic political couple. She could sometimes say or do things that he, a more pragmatic state legislator, governor and eventually President, could not.

In the summer of 2013, my family visited Val-Kill, her place on the Hudson River not far from the home in Hyde Park that was her mother-in-law’s and where she seldom felt comfortable and welcomed. There is a kiosk there where one could read her My Day columns, which she wrote from 1936 to 1962, the year that she passed away.

After FDR died in 1945, she was appointed by President Truman to be a delegate to the group that would create the United Nations. She became a primary author of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1948.

Check out these Eleanor-centered clips from Ken Burns’ The Roosevelts:
ER Is Born & Elliot Dies
ER and the Red Cross
Her First Step into Politics
ER vs. Sara Delano Roosevelt
ER on Troubled World
ER’s South Pacific Visit
ER Leaves White House

ABC Wednesday – Round 16

Slavery by Another Name PBS documentary

When you create a class of “the other”, not just racially, but as “the criminal”, even if it were based on a vague, trumped-up charge of vagrancy, it made it easier to think of people as less than human.

My wife and I got a babysitter last Friday night so we could take the bus – MUCH easier than trying to find parking at the uptown UAlbany campus – and watch Slavery by Another Name, “a 90-minute documentary that challenges one of Americans’ most cherished assumptions: the belief that slavery in this country ended with the Emancipation Proclamation.” Though the film will be premiering on PBS, Monday, February 13 at 9pm ET / 8pm CT (check local listings), the real draw of viewing it early on a bigger screen was to be able to see the director of the film, Shelia Curran Bernard, and the writer of the book upon which the film was based, Douglas Blackmon, who I had seen before.

Narrated by actor Laurence Fishburne, “The film tells how even as chattel slavery came to an end in the South in 1865, thousands of African Americans were pulled back into forced labor with shocking force and brutality. Continue reading “Slavery by Another Name PBS documentary”

Freedom Riders: An Appreciation

President John Kennedy, and his brother Robert, the Attorney General, needed to be prodded into action, just as President Barack Obama needs political pressure applied to continue on the right path.

While praising New York state lawmakers as they debated legalizing gay marriage, President Barack Obama stopped short of embracing it. Instead he asked gay and lesbian donors for patience. “I believe that gay couples deserve the same legal rights as every other couple in this country,” the president said at a Manhattan fundraiser [last Thursday], his first geared specifically to the gay community.

Last week, my Internet buddy Arthur posited the question: Has President Obama done enough for gay rights? He included a news video. “Let me be clear: President Obama is dead wrong on marriage equality: Civil unions are not a substitute for real marriage. It’s time for the president to stop “evolving” and get there and support full equality for GLBT people.

“However, Dan Choi is also wrong, possibly because he doesn’t know history. As Brian Ellner of the Human Rights Campaign says, this president has done more than any other president for GLBT equality than any other president in history.”

And this reminded me of a program I watched on PBS last month called Freedom Riders.

FREEDOM RIDERS is the powerful harrowing and ultimately inspirational story of six months in 1961 that changed America forever. Harrowing is right; it took me at least four sittings to get through the whole thing, not because it was boring, but because it was so intense. Just watch the two-minute Freedom Riders trailer.

From May until November 1961, more than 400 black and white Americans risked their lives—and many endured savage beatings and imprisonment—for simply traveling together on buses and trains as they journeyed through the Deep South. Deliberately violating Jim Crow laws, the Freedom Riders met with bitter racism and mob violence along the way, sorely testing their belief in nonviolent activism.
Continue reading “Freedom Riders: An Appreciation”

April Rambling

Truth is that I purchased it mostly because I hate it when Mike Sterling cries.

As a friend noted, “If this occurred randomly and naturally, it’s amazing. If it was done with Photoshop, it was inspired.”

‘Cheap flights’ song (and dance)

Rivers of Babylon a capella by Amy Barlow, joined by Kathy Smith and Corrine Crook, at Amy’s gig in my hometown of Binghamton, NY, July 2009.

Star Wars, the complete musical?

Many people use the terms science fiction and fantasy as if they are interchangeable or identical, when they are actually related, not the same. Author David Brin illuminates the differences.

Superman: citizen of the world

Re: World Intellectual Property Day and Jack Kirby

As a Presbyterian minister, I believed it was a sin. Then I met people who really understood the stakes: Continue reading “April Rambling”