Worth Watching: Ken Burns, Country Music – Episode 4: I Can’t Stop Loving You (1953-1963)

Several major figures emerge during this period, as country navigates its place in the music scene after the birth of rock and roll.

Elvis Presley appears on the Opry, finding a new friend in his Sun Records labelmate, Johnny Cash.  Brenda Lee becomes a rockabilly star, and Chet Atkins and Owen Bradley help to shape the Nashville Sound.  Meanwhile, Ray Price and Jean Shepard carry the flame for traditional country instrumentation.  A young writer named Willie Nelson comes to town and writes a pair of country music classics.  Loretta Lynn finds her way from Butcher Holler to Music City, and makes friends with Patsy Cline, who is enjoying the biggest success of her career when she boards a plane with Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas after performing at a charity event.

I found this to be one of the most powerful episodes of the series, and it whets the appetite for the next four episodes which air next week.  Let us know what you thought about it in the comments.



  1. I admit I shed some tears at the end of this episode. Ms. Cline died way, way too early.

    And I love Loretta Lynn so I loved her introduction to this series.

    I still scratch my head at Reese Witherspoon winning an Oscar for playing June Carter. I saw absolutely no resemblance to Carter from Witherspoon’s performance. It’s like Hollywood believes that all southern accents sound the same.

  2. Some other things I loved about the 4th episode was:

    1 – Paul Simon’s story of his long, long trip to purchase ‘Bye Bye Love’ by the Everly Brothers, scratching it, and having to make the long, long trip to buy it again.

    2 – Seeing the great Ronnie Milsap talking about Ray Charles

    3 – Seeing the great Mel Tillis talking about his school days of being ridiculed for his stuttering and his stories of Roger Miller

    4 – The Bradley Brothers opening their studio and basically saving Nashville as far as recording country music.

  3. It’s funny in a way; but you know how some people talk nowadays about how country music must supposedly “evolve”? They probably ought to study this episode and understand the 1950s, when rock and roll was a real existential threat to country music. It did indeed evolve during that period, and yes, it did take on a lot more pop sophistication. But it also didn’t lose sight of its past or its rich heritage, because the new artists that came along, even supposed “hell-raisers” like Johnny Cash, understood how to mine that past and make it relevant to the present day.

    We’ve got folks out there today who are doing that, including Rhiannon Giddens. We just need a whole lot more of them (IMHO).

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