Segments in this Video

"Will the Circle Be Unbroken" (02:47)


Leon Russell performs the song that compasses the meaning of country music. Many musicians have made various renditions of the song.

Social Challenges (03:14)

The intensifying Vietnam War divides America; country music is not immune to the social challenges. Vince Gill reflects on the circular behavior of life.

Old Time Music (05:46)

Bluegrass and string band music returns to popularity; Maybelle Carter joins the New Lost City Ramblers at the Newport Folk Festival. Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs write the theme song for "The Beverly Hillbillies"; "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" appears in "Bonnie and Clyde."

George Jones (06:58)

Jones' alcoholic father is abusive and Jones quits school and performs in local bars; "White Lightning" is his first hit. Jones struggles with alcohol but eventually creates his own sound. He divorces his second wife and moves to Nashville.

Tammy Wynette (04:59)

Wynette and Jones share many things in common and will eventually marry. Brenda Lee reflects on Wynette's struggle for happiness. In 1966, Wynette moves to Nashville and works with Billy Sherrill.

Wynette's Popularity (05:10)

Sherrill uses his version of the Wall of Sound to help Wynette produce a series of hits; she divorces her second husband. "Stand by Your Man" becomes Wynette's biggest record and she earns the CMA's female vocalist of the year. Jones and Wynette marry in 1969.

Hokum Songs (04:05)

In 1969, Cash records a live concert at San Quentin; "A Boy Named Sue" becomes his biggest single. Bobby Bare reflects on songs about growing old in the music industry. "May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose" is Little Jimmie Dickens' only number one song.

Bob Dylan (03:23)

Charlie McCoy recalls recording "Desolation Row" with Dylan; Dylan records "Blonde on Blonde" and "John Wesley Harding" on Music Row. Artists with varied musical backgrounds record in Nashville.

The Byrds (03:30)

The band pioneers folk rock and helps popularize psychedelic rock; "Mr. Tambourine Man," "Turn, Turn, Turn," and "Eight Miles High" become hits. The band records a country album with Lloyd Green on steel guitar and performs at the Grand Ole Opry; some reviewers recognize a new music genre of country rock.

Kris Kristofferson (06:01)

Kristofferson discusses his early interest in music and poetry. At the age of 29, Kristofferson visits Nashville and resigns his West Point position. He works for Columbia Records Studio in hopes of getting his songs noticed, causing strife with his wife and parents.

Kristofferson's Success (06:14)

In 1969, Kristofferson auditions with Fred Foster and Foster insists he record an album. Kristofferson recalls writing "Me and Bobby McGee"; several artists including Roger Miller and Janis Joplin record the song.

Johnny Cash (05:59)

By 1969, Cash's popularity reaches record numbers. He has a weekly television show that features artists from various musical and cultural backgrounds, and explores "forgotten members of society"; he and Louis Armstrong perform "Blue Yodel No. 9."

"Girl From The North Country" (03:33)

Dylan records "Nashville Skyline." Cash records several tracks with Dylan and convinces him to make an appearance on his television show; their performance has a significant impact.

Nashville Songwriter (09:22)

Experts reflect on Kristofferson's talent. In 1970, Sammi Smith releases "Help Me Make It Through The Night." Kristofferson reflects on "Sunday Morning Coming Down" and Cash's support; Cash performs the song on his show.

Country Music Programs (04:35)

Glen Campbell hosts a program in Los Angeles. Buck Owens and Roy Clark host "Hee Haw," to the consternation of some people. The program is a hit across the nation and broadcasts for 25 years.

Music and Politics (04:20)

Bill Malone describes country music's political involvement as populism; many U.S. soldiers in Vietnam come from the industry's core audience. Some country songs of the time address the human cost of war. Jan Howard reflects on the deaths of her sons.

Protesting Vietnam (08:12)

Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt part ways and Scruggs joins protesters in Washington D.C. Merle Haggard's "Okie from Muskogee" becomes the top country song in the U.S. Cash is a hero for many in the counterculture; President Nixon invites him to the White House and he performs "What is Truth?"

Willie Nelson (06:16)

Nelson's music has several influences. He reflects on jazz, Nashville's reception of him as a singer, and laying in the street. Nelson and his band tour the country and he eventually moves back to Texas.

Music and Faith (03:22)

Kristofferson attends a service at the Evangel Temple with Connie Smith and writes "Why Me Lord" after his experience; it becomes his biggest hit as a solo artist. Kristofferson closes every show with the song.

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (09:36)

In 1971, U.S. troops are withdrawing from Vietnam. The band cuts a record with Scruggs and other music legends at Woodland Studios. Jeff Hanna recalls recording sessions and Roy Acuff's participation.

Credits: Will the Circle Be Unbroken (1968-1972) (04:06)

Credits: Will the Circle Be Unbroken (1968-1972)

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Episode 6: Will the Circle Be Unbroken (1968-1972) (Ken Burns: Country Music)

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



With the Vietnam War intensifying, America is more divided than ever. Country music is not immune to the divisions. Kris Kristofferson abandons his military career, becomes a writer whose lyricism sets a new standard for country songs. 

Length: 113 minutes

Item#: BVL192005

Copyright date: ©2019

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