Three part Arena series American Epic is the untold story of a cultural revolution in the music of the USA. This trilogy of documentaries tells the stories of the pioneers of American roots music and how and why they came to be recorded.
Through an unprecedented archive of previously unseen film footage, unpublished photographs and exclusive interviews with the last living witnesses of this incredible era of music, American Epic follows the stories through the lives of several families of different cultures and backgrounds as they confronted the technological dawn of the early 20th century.
This first episode of Arena: American Epic takes us back to 1920s America to explore the birth of country music and urban blues. The growth of radio had shattered record sales and record companies went in search of music that was still unheard in an attempt to boost sales, travelling to rural America where the sounds of ordinary people were first recorded.
In this episode we are introduced to the early recordings of The Carter Family; the founders of modern country music, which was steeped in the traditions of their isolated Appalachian community. This episode also features Will Shade and The Memphis Jug Band, whose music told the story of street life in Memphis and along with other groups like Whistler’s Jug Band, set the foundation of modern day rap and RnB.
This episode traces their success which then launched Memphis as a vibrant new African American recording centre and Will Shade became a scout for Victor Records, which helped to establish many other artists.
Pictured are Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard
Arena: American Epic Episode 1 (of 3) airs on Sunday 21 May 2017 from 10.00pm-11.00pm on BBC Four.