Belmont University Will Sponsor Ken Burns Country Music Documentary

Pictured (seated): Ken Burns. Standing: Ricky Skaggs; Dr. Bob Fisher, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Belmont University; Mayor Megan Barry.

Pictured (seated): Ken Burns. Standing: Ricky Skaggs; Dr. Bob Fisher, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Belmont University; Nashville Mayor Megan Barry.

Belmont University announced Wednesday morning (Nov. 2) a deal to sponsor the upcoming eight-episode, 16-hour documentary series Country Music, helmed by revered filmmaker Ken Burns.

Among those celebrating the announcement were Nashville mayor Megan Barry, artist Ricky Skaggs, Belmont University president Bob Fisher, and producer Burns.

While the exact amount was not revealed, Fisher noted that Belmont would help underwrite a significant amount of the production and distribution costs for the series.

Burns has directed and produced for 30 years, including award-winning documentaries The Civil War (1990), Baseball (1994), Jazz (2001), The War (2007), The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (2009), Prohibition (2011), The Central Park Five (2012), and The Roosevelts (2014). He was also executive producer of both The West (1996, directed by Stephen Ives), and Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies (2015, directed by Barak Goodman). Burns’ work has been nominated for two Academy Awards and has earned two Emmy Awards (for Baseball and The National Parks).

“In some ways I don’t know why in almost 40 years we haven’t done [a country music documentary] before,” said Burns. “We are interested and each of our films asks one question: ‘Who are we? Who are these people who call themselves Americans? What does investigation of the past tell us about who we are and where we are going as people?'”

As part of the deal, Belmont University students will have the opportunity to intern with Burns’ Florentine Films in New Hampshire and New York. Belmont will also host a screening and Q&A session for the series.

Pictured (L-R): Dr. Bob Fisher; Ken Burns; Ricky Skaggs (speaking); Marty Dickens; Nashville Mayor Megan Barry.

Pictured (L-R): Dr. Bob Fisher; Ken Burns; Ricky Skaggs (speaking); Marty Dickens; Nashville Mayor Megan Barry.

Burns has already been working with Belmont’s Don Cusic for the past four years, as well as with the Country Music Hall of Fame to tell the story of country music’s history. He noted that the series includes interviews with Holly Williams, Belmont alumna Trisha Yearwood, Ricky Skaggs, Dolly Parton and more.

“There is no better place to center our base of operations than in Music City,” said Burns. “And while we do go to the Appalachian Mountains; Memphis, Tennessee; Del Rio, Texas; Bakersfield, California; Bristol, Tennessee; and Nova Scotia, Canada and the way it’s taken on around the world, it is centered here. The story of country music is this glorious tension of Nashville and these hillbillies that invaded…that tension is one of the driving forces of country music and this town. One of our earliest alums is Sarah Ophelia Colley Cannon, better known as Minnie Pearl. She helped the established gentry of Nashville accept the new people who came in. In every single episode, all eight episodes, we are on the cusp of that great story. We are thrilled to work with Belmont to help tell that story.

Belmont University announces major sponsorship of Ken Burns’s new documentary, the highly anticipated “Country Music” which is slated to premiere nationally on PBS in 2019, on the front steps of Freeman Hall at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. November 2, 2016.

Belmont University announces major sponsorship of Ken Burns’s new documentary, the highly anticipated “Country Music” which is slated to premiere nationally on PBS in 2019, on the front steps of Freeman Hall at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. November 2, 2016.

“We’ve digitized 20,000 still photos,” said Burns, who noted the documentary is in the early days of editing. “We’ve done 98 interviews for this and I’m sorry to say, but happy to say, we included several people who have passed away, including Ralph Stanley and Little Jimmy Dickens.”

The documentary is set to air in 2019 on PBS.

“I can’t think of a better subject than country music,” said Burns. “It is American history firing on all cylinders.”

 

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About the Author

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 jnicholson@musicrow.com.

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