Segments in this Video

American Society and Music (06:01)


Songs like "Hard Times" have a personal message. World War II follows the Great Depression, resulting in mass internal migrations. The popularity of country music increases and the radio becomes central to American life.

Maddox Brothers and Rose (06:39)

In 1933, Lula and Charlie Maddox migrate to California with their five children. Fred Maddox convinces his siblings to play music. During their travels, they meet Woody Guthrie; Rose Maddox incorporates ideas from "Reno Blues" into "Philadelphia Lawyer.

Radio Programs (05:29)

The Depression significantly impacts the recording industry. Radio stations attract listeners with old time music programs; the WL' National Barn Dance has the largest audience.

Orvin Grover Autry (04:36)

Autry grows up on a farm, drops out of high school, travels to New York, changes his name, and performs Jimmie Rodgers songs until success with "Silver Haired Daddy of Mine.” He lands a regular spot on WLS Roundup and makes personal appearances.

Singing Cowboys and Cowgirls (08:13)

Yodeling becomes standard practice for artists like Tex Owens, Tex Ritter, Dolly and Millie Good, and Patsy Montana. Autry stars in a series of films, increasing studio demand for singing cowboys and new songs. In 1938, he demands more money to act, but Republic refuses and casts Leonard Slye.

Carter Family (06:45)

The group is one of the most influential ensembles in country music. During the Depression, a rift between Sara and A.P. Carter causes concern for Ralph Peer. Experts reflect on "Will the Circle Be Unbroken."

Border Blaster Station (06:37)

Sara and A.P. divorce in 1936, but the Carter Family presents a united public front. In 1938, they accept a job with XERA radio station in Mexico. In February 1939, Sara dedicates "I'm Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes" to Coy Bayes; the couple soon marries.

Music of America (03:16)

Country music is an amalgam of sounds and represents the immigrant experience. In the 1930s, swing music becomes popular. In Tulsa, crowds gather to hear Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys.

Bob Wills (07:00)

Wills' ancestry includes Cherokee, English, Irish, and Cajun roots. He plays at ranch dances and competes in fiddle contests. In 1929, he forms The Light Crust Doughboys and then The Playboys after a dispute with Pappy O'Daniel. Wills creates his trademark sound.

Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys (05:43)

Wills persuades a General Mills subsidiary to produce Playboy Flour; he and the band perform four nights a week. Wills binge drinks, divorces five times, struggles with depression, but continues to innovate; "San Antonio Rose" becomes a hit in 1938.

Grand Ole Opry (07:24)

WSM becomes a 50,000 watt clear-channel station; Edwin Craig arranges for the NBC Symphony to broadcast on a 1,000 watt signal. George Hay hosts "The Grand Ole Opry"; its popularity requires a new venue. The Delmore Brothers appear on stage and tour with DeFord Bailey.

Roy Acuff (06:33)

Julius Frank Anthony Kuczynsk joins the Grand Ole Opry in 1937 and implements several changes. Acuff's background includes a musical family, touring with a medicine show, and forming the Crazy Ten-E-Seeans; he joins the Opry and becomes the main attraction.

Monroe Brothers (07:59)

Bill Monroe has a difficult childhood and his uncle becomes a mentor. Bill and Charlie Monroe embark on a musical career, but separate and form new bands. Bill earns a spot on the Grand Ole Opry and Charlie hears the broadcast.

Minnie Pearl (06:48)

Comedy is a mainstay on the Grand Ole Opry. Sarah Ophelia Colley studies to become an actress and joins an Atlanta theater group. She collects country stories and develops an alter ego; she joins the Opry cast in 1940.

Broadcasting War (07:14)

By 1940, Autry eclipses Roy Rogers in popularity and wealth. ASCAP increases rates and radio stations create Broadcast Music Incorporated. Broadcasters ban ASCAP songs and switch to BMI; Acuff launches Acuff-Rose Publications. The Grand Ole Opry fires Bailey.

War and Music (08:22)

By 1941, The Carter Family includes Maybelle Carter's three daughters; they record "Why Do You Cry Little Darling." America enters World War II and several musicians enlist in the army. The Armed Forces Radio Service adds the Grand Ole Opry; 600 radio stations feature hillbilly music.

Life After Service (05:14)

Autry returns to films, but singing cowboys have lost their popularity; he builds a diverse business empire. Wills receives a discharge in 1943 and performs shows in California. The Carter Family disbands, but Maybelle and her daughters continue to perform, hoping to reach the Opry.

Credits: Hard Times (1933 –1945) (03:08)

Credits: Hard Times (1933 –1945)

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Episode 2: Hard Times (1933-1945) (Ken Burns: Country Music)

Part of the Series : Ken Burns: Country Music
3-Year Streaming Price: $339.95



During the Great Depression and World War II, country music thrives and reaches bigger audiences. Gene Autry sets off a craze for singing cowboys, Bob Wills adapts jazz’s Big Band sound to create Texas Swing, and Roy Acuff becomes a star. 

Length: 114 minutes

Item#: BVL192001

Copyright date: ©2019

Closed Captioned

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