Worth Reading: Jonathan Keefe, ” Country Music: How the Ken Burns Series Celebrates the Outsider” (The Guardian)

Country Universe’s very own Jonathan Keefe has written an extraordinary piece on the Ken Burns documentary, published in The Guardian:

Documentarian Ken Burns has stated publicly that he was not particularly a fan of country music at the time he started work on Country Music, his 16-hour historical overview of the genre currently airing on PBS. That Burns is far removed from the country music industry, having no real professional or personal ties to the music or its larger infrastructure, ends up being representative of what’s most notable about the documentary as a whole. Historically, country music has viewed perceived outsiders with, at best, skepticism and, in its ugliest moments, with overt hostility. As an outsider himself, Burns approaches the genre from a perspective that gives thoughtful consideration to the experiences of artists whose contributions have been marginalized. Burns’s exploration of the genre concludes in 1996, but the greatest value of his series is in reframing conversations that have dominated discussions of country music in 2019.

There have been a few think pieces circulating about this documentary, but most of them have stuck to the narrow scope of who was included and who was left out.  Keefe lays out the larger themes and connects them to debates that are still going on today in and around country music. Meaningful connection are drawn to everything from “Old Town Road” to the Highwomen. It’s an essential read, and easily the finest analysis of the program that’s out there, in my opinion.  Please take the time to read it, and share your thoughts in the comments!


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