Ken Burns & Kathy Mattea Discuss New PBS Documentary 'Country Music' with Kelly Ford

September 24, 2019

By Jason Goldstein

Historian, producer, and documentarian Ken Burns and GRAMMY award-winning singer-songwriter Kathy Mattea sat down with Kelly Ford to talk about the new PBS documentary Country Music

Ken’s documentary is a deep dive into the genre of country music -- the result of he and his team sorting through thousands of photos, videos, and recordings to ultimately offer up this documentary eight and a half years later.

Believe it or not, Ken was not a huge country fan as a kid. A child of R&B and rock and roll, he worked in a record store in Michigan growing up so he was around it and was familiar with album covers, but through his research, he embraced the sheer power of it; the power of class, people rising out of poverty, the African-American influence and of course, the driving force of strong country females. Ken believes women are central to the story of country music and its major impact on society. 

"At the very beginning is Mother Maybel, she’s the original lead guitarist of the United States of America," says Ken. "She set in motion a whole set of incredibly strong women... our Mount Rushmore has an equal number of women as it does men." 

Many of the songs highlighted in the doc are focused on love and loss, and for Ken and his team finding out the stories behind the songs made them so much more powerful.  A 3-minute song can make someone who might be thinking about the unthinkable know that they are not alone. There’s a country song for every mood. 

According to Ken and Kathy (and all of us fans!), country music is a very special format. It's one big musical family and has always been that way, going all the way back to the roots of barn dances and square dances. The genre has and always will be about community and shared experiences and the special connection between artist and fan happened a long time ago, long before the commercialization of music. 

Although completely satisfied with his project, Ken says there was one person he wished he could bring back to sit and chat with -- Hank Williams. 

MORE: Ken Burns Explores 'Country Music' in Latest PBS Documentary