Ken Burns’ epic eight-part documentary, “Country Music,” makes clear that a number of different streams from all over the South came together to feed this homegrown art form.
Though North Carolina’s role in country music isn’t specifically spelled out, viewers will quickly notice the state’s musical heritage weaving in and out of the narrative.
Not surprisingly, old–time string music plays a major role in the early part of the documentary, with banjo innovator Charlie Poole of Rockingham County getting a nod for developing a three-finger banjo style that another Tarheel, Earl Scruggs, took to new levels.
Scruggs, a Shelby native, has prominent roles in a few episodes, including one that covers his tenure with Bill Monroe, and the folk boom that spread to college campuses.
Other North Carolina natives with air time include Charlie Daniels, Randy Travis, Ronnie Milsap and Betty Johnson. Rhiannon Giddens, a Greensboro native, offers sharp insight on the role the banjo and slaves played in helping to shape old-time music, one of country music’s many branches. Tony Brown, who was raised in Walkertown, also has a brief appearance. Brown has been associated with most of country music’s biggest stars, either as an instrumentalist or as president of MCA Nashville.
The success of the Kingston Trio’s “Tom Dooley” is also mentioned as a pivotal moment in country music, with listeners showing a hunger for songs that tell a story. The song is based on the hanging of Tom Dula of Wilkes County. Frank Proffitt of Pick Britches Valley in Watauga County had a big hand in the song’s success.
The documentary traces how these old-time songs, played in the textile mills of the Piedmont and the Southern Appalachians, made their way to the Clinch River Valley in Southwestern Virginia. From there, they entered the repertoire of A.P., Sara and Maybelle Carter, whose act, The Carter Family, was part of The Big Bang that launched country music, along with Mississippi native, Jimmie Rodgers.
Don’t have time to watch all eight parts? The Mount Airy Public Library, 145 Rockford St., will show highlights from the documentary at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 19. Sonker and coffee will be available.
If the documentary whets your appetite to learn more about old-time and bluegrass music, The Ramkat in Winston-Salem and The Reeves Theater in Elkin will show the new documentary “Fiddlin” on Sept. 25 and Oct. 4 respectively. Tickets at each of the venues is $12.