Coming Soon: American Epic Documentary Series

A three part historical documentary –  a feature length film will be broadcast this autumn on PBS in the USA and on the BBC as part of the Arena series. The cxecutive producers of the series are T Bone Burnett, Robert Redford and Jack White. The series is directed by Bernard MacMahon and written and produced by Allison McGourty, Duke Erikson and Bernard MacMahon

A companion soundtrack and CD box set is to be released by Sony Music’s Legacy and Columbia Records and Third Man Records

The series will cover the extraordinary story of the trailblazing era when country wide, the music of ordinary Americans was recorded for the very first time. American Epic will take us on a journey across time to the birth of modern music, when the musical strands of a diverse nation first combined, sparking a cultural renaissance that forever transformed the future of music and the world.

American Epic will  will release contemporary performances from The American Epic Series. Sony Music’s Legacy Recordings will release a  series of archival recordings, featuring groundbreaking audio restoration of 1920s and 1930s recordings by Lo-Max Films, Nick Bergh and Peter Henderson. Jack White’s Third Man Records will release a deluxe box of vinyl records.

British filmmakers, Bernard MacMahon and Allison McGourty, have pieced together this extraordinary story set in the late 1920s when record company talent scouts toured America with a recording machine and for the first time captured the raw expression of an emerging culture.

The filmmakers follow the recording machine’s trail across the United States to rediscover the families whose recordings would lead to the development of blues, country, gospel, Hawaiian, Cajun and folk music – without which there would be no rock, pop, R&B or hip hop today.

Over three episodes the remarkable lives of these seminal musicians are revealed through previously unseen film footage, unpublished photographs, and exclusive interviews with some of the last living witnesses to that era, when the musical strands of a diverse nation first emerged, sparking a cultural revolution whose reverberations are felt to this day.

For the American Epic series the filmmakers have re-assembled the recording machine that allowed America to first hear itself.

They have replicated the atmosphere of America’s seminal 1920s field recordings down to the smallest detail, with top American artists recording straight to wax, using all the original microphones, amplifiers, and other equipment from that era.

This is the first time that any performer has been able to use this machinery for over 80 years.  Led by producers Jack White and T Bone Burnett, today’s legends are given a once-in-a-lifetime chance to relive the experience of the founding mothers and fathers, their idols, and remake the music that changed America and changed the world.

The American Epic sessions will feature The Alabama Shakes, 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 and Edie Brickell, Fred Martin and The Levite Camp, Ashley Monroe, Willie Nelson, Charlie Kaleo Oyama, Blind Boy Paxton, Raphael Saadiq, and Jack White.

Director Bernard MacMahon explained, “American Epic is the story of one of the great moments in American history – when the voices of working people, minorities, and rural people throughout the country were first heard, and how the discovery of these artists forever changed the sound of American popular music and introduced new genres such as R&B, rock and country. It celebrates American technological innovation, diversity and freedom of speech.”

First ever color film footage of Mississippi John Hurt by K. Swerilas, here performing “Louis Collins”. Image from collection of Lo-Max Films Ltd.

First ever color film footage of Mississippi John Hurt by K. Swerilas, here performing “Louis Collins”. Image from collection of Lo-Max Films Ltd.

Producer and co-creator Allison McGourty said: “We traveled the length and breadth of America, from Cleveland, Ohio to the Gulf of Mexico, and from New York to Hawaii, in our quest to discover the identities and stories of America’s earliest recorded musicians.  We captured testimonials from the last living witnesses and direct descendants of America’s musical pioneers. This is the last time their story can be told before everyone who was there is gone.”

“This is America’s greatest untold story,” said Robert Redford.  “It’s an account of the cultural revolution that ultimately united a nation.”

“These musicians we profile are the real American heroes,” said T Bone Burnett, an Executive Producer. “They set out from the darkness with nothing but a guitar on their backs, put out their thumbs and conquered the world.”

“In American Epic we can examine how important the fact is that when phonograph records were invented, for the first time ever, women, minorities, poor rural men and even children were given the opportunity to say whatever they wanted in song, for the whole world to hear, shockingly without much censorship,” said Jack White, an Executive Producer.  “What they were allowed to say on phonograph recordings, they were not allowed to speak in public or in person. That is an astounding thought.”

John Tefteller, founder of Blues Images and consultant to Lo-Max Films, said, “The new sound transfer techniques by Lo-Max has taken everything to a new level above and beyond anything anyone has ever heard before. 1920s early 1930s blues records have never sounded so good. It sounds like you are in the room with the performers. People are going to be knocked out when they hear how these records sound now.”

Among the contributors to the series are Richard Nevins, Sherwin Dunner, Joe Bussard, Pete Whelan, Joe Lauro, Michael Kieffer, Tony Russell and many more.

American Epic will be available on DVD and Blu-ray and will also be available for digital download.

For more information on the overall initiative click here for a website which is currently under construction. The social media hashtag is #AmericanEpic.

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