The second episode of Arena: American Epic explores gospel, the songs of the cold mines and the Delta blues.
Featuring pioneers whose names have largely been forgotten, this second episode heads to the small South Carolina town of Cheraw. Here, Elder Burch held dynamic church gatherings which inspired young musicians – including jazz giant Dizzy Gillespie. Gillespie’s autobiography cites Burch and his sons as a direct inspiration; it would be no exaggeration to say that modern music would not be the same without Burch’s influence.
The programme reveals the gritty songs and musicians that came from the coal mines of Logan County, West Virginia: The Williamson Brothers, Dick Justice and Frank Hutchinson. The hellish conditions of the coal mines inspired them to find a way out, through their music.
Finally the film travels to the home of the blues – the Mississippi Delta, where Charley Patton captured the sounds and struggles of life in the cotton fields. Patton’s significance cannot be understated; he is widely considered the most influential musician in the birth of blues, and taught some of the best blues artists that followed, including Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson and Honeyboy Edwards.
Pictured is Raphael Saadiq
Arena: American Epic Episode 2 (of 3) airs on Sunday 28 May 2017 on BBC Four.