Robert Redford, Jack White and T Bone Burnett are banding together with PBS and BBC Arena on historical music recording documentary “American Epic.”
The three-part feature-length film, which will showcase contemporary artists in recording sessions, is set to air in the U.S. and U.K. this fall. Additionally, the doc will include companion music releases from Columbia Records, Sony Music’s Legacy Recordings and White’s Third Man Records.
“‘American Epic’ takes 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,” PBS described.
Bernard MacMahon and Allison McGourty pieced together the film, which sees its story set in the late-1920s, when record company talent scouts toured America with a recording machine, capturing for the first time the emerging musical culture.
For “The American Epic Sessions,” the filmmakers have re-assembled the antique recording machine and replicated the atmosphere of 1920s field recordings, with top American artists recording straight to wax, using all the original microphones, amplifiers, and other equipment from that era.
Performances include those by White, Alabama Shakes, The Americans, 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 and Lost Bayou Ramblers.
“This is America’s greatest untold story,” Redford said. “It’s an account of the cultural revolution that ultimately united a nation.”
“These musicians we profile are the real American heroes,” Burnett stated. “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,” White added. “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.”
“American Epic” is a production of Lo-Max Films, BBC Arena, Wildwood Enterprises and Thirteen Productions LLC for WNET.
MacMahon is director, writer and producer. Other writers include McGourty and Duke Erikson, who have also earned producer credits, alongside Bill Holderman. In addition to Burnett, Redford and White, Anthony Wall is executive producer for the BBC and Julie Anderson for WNET. Stephen Segaller is the executive in charge for WNET. Bill Gardner, vice president of Programming & Developmentm oversees the project for PBS.
PBS International will distribute “American Epic” to broadcasters and media companies worldwide.