The heroes of the silver screen, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, are among the artists featured on tonight’s episode, as the Great Depression and World War II loom large.
Picking up after the death of Jimmie Rodgers, the spotlight remains on the Carter Family for another episode, as their unique working arrangement continues through separation and divorce. Their influence begins to surface in upcoming artists as varied as Maddox Brothers & Rose and Woody Guthrie.
Ken Burns is in his comfort zone during this time period, and he is very effective at connecting the challenges of the Dust Bowl and the great western migration to the cross pollination that brought new sounds and influences to the genre.
Radio also makes its big breakout during this time period, and the barn dances that made stars out of Tex Ritter, the Coon Creek Girls, and Patsy Montana. Equally important is the emergence of Bob Wills, bringing Western Swing to country music, and influencing generations of stars that came afterwards. We also get the beginning of bluegrass, as Bill and Charlie Monroe become stars while crafting what eventually became its own genre of music, but never really stopped being country.
This episode has far more footage to work with, which really makes the stories come to life. One of the best sequences uses a series of still photos to trace the creation of Minnie Pearl, with her early routines playing as a voice over. Another more heartbreaking sequence follows, as DeFord Bailey is summarily dismissed from the Opry, with racist commentary from the head of the management.