Segments in this Video

Honky Tonks (02:18)


Dancing, drinking, and fighting are common at the venues. Musicians reflect on the atmosphere of "skull orchards."

Music After WWII (06:41)

A changing society and sense of vitality calls for new musical elements; country music adapts. Taverns utilize jukeboxes when live bands are unavailable. Hank Williams performs honky tonk music and songs that reach a personal level.

Ernest Tubb (06:01)

Tubb broadcasts the Checkerboard Jamboree and performs at the Grand Ole Opry every Saturday; he makes personal appearances during the week. Experts reflect on Tubb's talent and background. In 1947, Tubb performs at Carnegie Hall, opens a record shop, and creates the Midnight Jamboree.

Hank Williams (07:55)

Williams' father enters a veteran's hospital and his mother opens a boarding house. He meets Rufus Payne, learns guitar, and forms The Drifting Cowboys; Williams' mother promotes his music. Binge drinking causes Williams to lose work; Audrey Mae Sheppard pushes him to return to music.

Grand Ole Opry (03:12)

National Life and Accident Insurance Company Agents market to Opry listeners. Radio stations across the country broadcast weekly barn dance programs.

Eddie Arnold (04:37)

Arnold is country music's first pop crossover; he performs at Constitution Hall in 1947. As a young man, Arnold turns to singing and obtains a job at KXOK. In 1940, he joins the Golden West Cowboys and goes solo in 1943; Thomas Parker becomes his manager.

Blue Grass Music (06:55)

Bill Monroe initiates a new genre of music and joins the Grand Ole Opry in 1939. He reconfigures The Blue Grass Boys and hires Earl Scruggs; Scruggs has a three-fingered picking technique. The band's style influences other string bands.

The Stanley Brothers (08:16)

Ralph and Carter Stanley come from a musical family. They form The Clinch Mountain Boys and perform regularly on WCYB. The Stanleys' imitation of The Blue Grass Boys and the departure of Scruggs and Lester causes a feud with Monroe.

The Maddox Brothers and Rose (05:11)

In 1948, the band revitalizes "Mule Skinner Blues"; Don Maddox recalls Bob Wills declining to give Rose a job. The band wears flamboyant outfits and incorporates various elements into their shows; they become widely popular.

Little Jimmy Dickens (07:01)

Dickens joins the Grand Ole Opry after promoting products at various radio shows. He wears Nudie suits and records several compositions by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant.

Williams' Success (09:56)

Williams' drunken binges affect his marriage and career, but he believes in redemption. He writes "I Saw the Light," reconciles with his wife, joins "The Louisiana Hayride," records "Lovesick Blues," and joins the Grand Ole Opry.

Country & Western (03:07)

Record labels struggle to name music with numerous roots and styles. Folk music becomes associated with New York City and songs of social protest. Woody Guthrie gets caught up in anticommunist backlash.

Music City U.S.A. (08:31)

Maybelle Carter performs with her three daughters. They sing on Mid-Day Merry-Go-Round and Chester Atkins joins the ensemble. The group debuts on the Grand Ole Opry in 1950.

Williams' Compositions (07:05)

Musicians discuss song lyrics including "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." Williams and his wife lavishly spend money and open a clothing store. Dickens recalls Williams writing him a song and then recording it in studio.

Williams' Career and Struggles (05:45)

Radio broadcasts include hits, promotions, and recitations of Luke the Drifter. Williams and his wife fight often and have trust issues. He returns to drinking and writes about his troubles; "Cold Cold Heart" becomes a hit.

Honky Tonk Stars (05:16)

By 1952, over 1,000 radio stations broadcast country & western music. Lefty Frizzell challenges Williams' popularity. Hank Thompson's "Wild Side of Life" and Kitty Wells' "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" become hits.

Williams' Decline (08:37)

Williams' divorce finalizes in 1952 and he writes "You Win Again." He records several hits, but drugs and alcohol take a toll. He loses his spot on the Grand Ole Opry, remarries, and goes on tour; Williams dies January 1, 1953.

Williams' Legacy (04:07)

On January 4, 1953, 20,000 mourners, including many musicians, gather for Williams' funeral. "Your Cheatin' Heart" defines country music for many people.

Credits: The Hillbilly Shakespeare (1945 –1953) (02:55)

Credits: The Hillbilly Shakespeare (1945 –1953)

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Episode 3: The Hillbilly Shakespeare (1945-1953) (Ken Burns: Country Music)

Part of the Series : Ken Burns: Country Music
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Country music adapts to the cultural changes of post-war society. Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs transform string band music into Bluegrass. Out of the bars comes a new sound and songs about drinking, cheating, and heartbreak: Honky Tonk.

Length: 114 minutes

Item#: BVL192002

Copyright date: ©2019

Closed Captioned

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