American Roots Music [DVD]

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Special Features

  • Full-length performances by Bob Willis, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, and others


American Roots Music, Episode 4: All My Children of the Sun
All My Children of the Sun narrates the recognition and growth of Cajun, zydeco, Tejano, and Native American music from the 1960s to the present. Inspired by a warm reception at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, Dewey Balfa returned to Louisiana determined to revitalize Cajun music. The steady pulse of Cajun music, intended for dancing, also spread to the African-American community. There, musicians like Clifton Chenier added new rhythms to create a hybrid called zydeco. Many contemporary artists added experimental touches to traditional music. Dakota Sioux Floyd Westerman employed country music to protest the mistreatment of Native Americans, while Robert Mirabal underscores his compositions with ritualistic drama. Other musicians draw freely from multiple roots genres. Banjoist Bela Fleck merges bluegrass with jazz and rock, while singer Gillian Welch fuses old-timey music, gospel, and country blues. All My Children of the Sun includes footage of Native American dancing, and interviews with Robbie Robertson, Flaco Jimenez, and Edwin Hawkins. ~ Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr., Rovi

American Roots Music, Episode 1: When First Unto This Country
When First Unto This Country narrates the origins of American roots music and follows its development through the 1920s. When Africans and Europeans founded the new world in the 17th century, each ethnic group brought its unique musical heritage to the new world. It was the combination of these different heritages that created a uniquely American music, or, American roots music. At the beginning of the 20th century, scholars and musicians became more aware of this musical legacy. At first, traveling musicians had spread blues, folk songs, and "hillbilly" music. The Fisk Jubilee Singers traveled widely in the 1870s, popularizing African-American spirituals. Later, the phonograph and radio accelerated the process, carrying local sounds beyond their region of origin. Ralph Peer recorded both Jimmie Rogers and the Carter Family in 1927 in Bristol, TN, while WSM in Nashville began to broadcast a Saturday night barn dance in 1925, later to be called the Grand Ole Opry. When First Unto This Country includes rare footage of country music founder Rodgers and blues legend Son House, and interviews with Ricky Skaggs, Bonnie Raitt, and Pete Seeger. ~ Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr., Rovi

American Roots Music, Episode 2: This Land was Made for You and Me
This Land Was Made for You & Me follows the development of American roots music from the 1930s to the 1950s. During the '30s, a number of folklorists began collecting traditional music in field recordings. John and Alan Lomax "discovered" African-American folksinger Huddie Ledbetter, known as Leadbelly, at Angola Penitentiary in 1933. Leadbelly's vast repertoire of original material convinced many that American traditions existed separately from European ones. Other folksingers began writing material from their own experiences. Woody Guthrie wrote about the Dust Bowl, labor unrest, and migrant workers as he traveled throughout Depression-era America. After WWII, new roots genres grew rapidly. Ernest Tubb spread the gospel of honky tonk, while the meteoric career of Hank Williams wrote a new chapter on how to "live fast and die young." Mountain music also evolved after the war when Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs married high-lonesome vocals to speedy banjo picking to create bluegrass. This Land Was Made for You & Me includes footage of Woody Guthrie, Lefty Frizzell, and a rare color clip of a Leadbelly performance. There are also interviews with Merle Haggard, Sam Phillips, and Kitty Wells. ~ Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr., Rovi

American Roots Music, Episode 3: The Times They are A-Changin'
The Times, They Are A-Changing follows the development of roots music during the '50s and '60s. During the late '50s, a folk revival swept the United States. Rooted in the work of folklorists and musicians from the '30s and '40s, the revival spread to mainstream America when the Kingston Trio released "Tom Dooley" in 1958. African-American migration from the Mississippi Delta to northern cities like Chicago gave birth to electric blues players like Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, while singers like Mahalia Jackson and Rosetta Tharpe popularized gospel. The Civil Rights movement, and later, antiwar protests, also influenced the era's music. College students and folksingers participated in lunch counter sit-ins and attended the 1963 March on Washington. In 1965, controversy erupted at the Newport Folk Festival when a young Bob Dylan traded his acoustic guitar for an electric one, marking the end of the folk revival. The Times, They Are A-Changing includes film footage of Joan Baez, B.B. King, and the Staple Singers, and interviews with Keith Richards, Peter Yarrow, and James Cotton. ~ Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr., Rovi

Cast & Crew

  • Kris Kristofferson
    Kris Kristofferson - Narrator
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