American Epic is a three-part music documentary by Bernard MacMahon that shows how the first recordings of music from rural America changed an industry and a culture. In the 1920s, when radio began to dominate music consumption and production, record companies threatened to go out of business. All changed, however, with the advent of portable electrical recording machines, which made it possible to record everyday Americans in all parts of the country and—for the first time—capture their voices and music. Talent contests were organized all over the U.S. South to collect the great voices and artists whose musical contributions otherwise would never have reached beyond their home town.
History was made. A unique, American music culture emerged, with impacts on music all over the world.
This documentary, which first aired in 2017 on PBS, is a “time portal” back into the beginnings of American roots music, and at the same time a journey into American history. The filmmakers spent 10 years researching and creating the documentary, including employing a painstakingly reconstructed recording machine from original parts.
The film contains rare film footage of the time and restored recordings from the 1920s and 1930s that are archived in the Library of Congress. Narrated by Robert Redford, this masterpiece portrait of a musical era is essential historical education for all Americans.
“American Epic is about the first time America heard itself.”
Viewers in Europe (or VPN) can watch all 3 episodes on YouTube.
American Epic: The Big Bang – Episode 1
American Epic: Blood and Soil – Episode 2
American Epic: Out of the Many, the One – Episode 3
American Epic homepage in the U.S.
American Epic homepage in other countries
American Epic Collection (Music)