American Epic

Episode Descriptions

American Epic

Directed by Bernard MacMahon

Episode Descriptions


Three-part Series Description

Premieres Tuesdays, May 16-30 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check 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, narrated by Robert Redford, 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.

Starring: the Carter Family, Memphis Jug Band, Elder J.E. Burch, the Williamson Brothers and Curry, Dick Justice, Charley Patton, Hopi Indian Chanters, Joseph Kekuku, Lydia Mendoza, the Breaux Family, Mississippi John Hurt, and Blind Willie Johnson.

The series is written by Bernard MacMahon & Allison McGourty & Duke Erikson and William Morgan.

Episode 101: “The Big Bang”

Premieres Tuesday, May 16 at 9 p.m. 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 breadth of American music and discover the artists that would shape our world. The recordings they made of all the ethnic groups of America democratized the nation and gave a voice to everyone. It was the first time America heard itself. As told by

music pioneers, their families and eyewitnesses, we travel back in time to the “Big Bang” of modern popular music with the Carter Family, Will Shade and the Memphis Jug Band.

Musicians featured: The Carter Family, Memphis Jug Band, Charlie Musselwhite, Jack White, Nas, and Taj Mahal. Narrated by Robert Redford. One hour.

Episode 102: “Blood and Soil”

Premieres Tuesday, May 23 at 9 p.m. 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, Frank Hutchison, Howlin’ Wolf, Charley Patton, Son House, Robert Lockwood Jr., Honeyboy Edwards, Homesick James, and Taj Mahal. Narrated by Robert Redford. One hour.

Episode 103: “Out of the Many, the One”

Premieres Tuesday, May 30 at 9 p.m. 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. Narrated by Robert Redford. 90 minutes.