The third and final episode of the Arena: American Epic documentary series explores the influence of Hawaiian music, and more specifically the steel guitar, which became central to the sound of a range of musical styles.
When Joseph Kekuku picked up a metal bolt as he wandered down a train track, the bolt hit the strings of his guitar and the sound was born. He perfected his slide to create a new instrument that would travel the world.
The film continues with an exploration of Cajun music, the blended music of Louisiana that reflects the eerie landscape of the bayous. The record companies were just as ready to record Cajun music as they were the broader genres of country, gospel and blues. Central to the scene were The Breaux Family whose descendants play and talk about continuing their musical heritage today.
Finally, this episode explores the story of Mississippi John Hurt, discovered in the 1920s and soon forgotten; he represents the odyssey of American Epic in microcosm. After travelling to Memphis to record he returned home to Avalon, a tiny spot on the map of Mississippi. With the Depression, recording in the south came virtually to a halt and so Hurt simply went back to share cropping, his music cherished by only a few dedicated collectors.
Thirty five years after those first recordings, folklorist Dick Spottswood tracked Hurt down in Avalon. As in a fairy tale, he played to adoring crowds at the Newport Folk Festival of 1963, and became one of the most celebrated stars of the global folk revival.
Arena: American Epic Episode 3 (of 3) airs Sunday 4 June 2017 from 10.00pm-11.00pm on BBC Four.