‘American Epic’ Documentary To Study 1920s Musicians, Recording Technology

American EpicJack White, T Bone Burnett, and Robert Redford have signed on as Executive Producers for the three-part television event, American Epic. Created by two British filmmakers, Bernard MacMahon and Allison McGourty, the documentary follows America’s musical flourishing in the 1920s, when record companies took portable recording machines across the country in hopes of capturing the performers and musical styles that would give way to the genres of blues, country, Gospel, Cajun, folk and more. These musicians’ lives and music are revealed through previously unseen film footage, previously unpublished photographs, and interviews with some of the last living witnesses to that era.

The documentary’s filmmakers re-assembled the machine that allowed many American musicians to hear themselves on record for the first time, and replicated the atmosphere of America’s 1920s field recordings, allowing some top artists of today to record straight to wax, using the original microphones, amplifiers, and other equipment from that era. This marks the first time performers have been able to use this machinery in more than 80 years.

These performances will be featured in a separate feature-length work, American Epic Sessions, also set to air on PBS stations and BBC Arena. Sony will release the soundtrack.

Others taking part include Alabama Shakes, The Americans, The Avett Brothers, Beck, Frank Fairfield, Ana Gabriel, Rhiannon Giddens, Merle Haggard, Bobby Ingano, Elton John, Auntie Geri Kuhia, Pokey LaFarge, Bettye LaVette, Los Lobos, Lost Bayou Ramblers, Taj Mahal, Steve Martin & Edie Brickell, Fred Martin & The Levite Camp, Ashley Monroe, Nas, Willie Nelson, Charlie Kaleo Oyama, Blind Boy Paxton, and Raphael Saadiq.

American Epic is directed by MacMahon, and created/produced by McGourty, MacMahon, and Duke Erickson.

American Epic will air in Fall 2015 on PBS and BBC Arena.

Watch the teaser for American Epic below.


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Jessica Nicholson serves as the Managing Editor for MusicRow magazine. Her previous music journalism experience includes work with Country Weekly magazine and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) magazine. She holds a BBA degree in Music Business and Marketing from Belmont University. She welcomes your feedback at [email protected]

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