American Epic: The First Time America Heard Itself” By Bernard MacMahon and Allison McGourty— The Pioneers and Artists of American Root Music

MacMahon, Bernard and Allison McGourty. “’”, Simon and Schuster, 2017.

The Pioneers and Artists of American Root Music

Amos Lassen

“American Epic” is the companion book to the groundbreaking PBS and BBC documentary series that celebrates the pioneers and artists of American roots music—blues, gospel, folk, Cajun, Appalachian, Hawaiian, Native American and without which there would be no jazz, rock, country R&B, or hip hop today.

Jack White, T. Bone Burnett, and Robert Redford have executive produced this special historical music project that explores the pivotal recording journeys of the early twentieth century, which for the first time made American music available to the world. It was also the first time America truly heard herself.

In the 1920s and 1930s, as radio was taking over the pop music business, record companies were forced to leave their studios in major cities and search for new styles and markets. They discovered a wealth of unexpected talent—farmers, laborers, and ethnic minorities playing styles that blended strands of Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas. These recordings form the base for modern music as we know it but during the Depression many record companies went out of business and more than ninety percent of the fragile 78 rpm were destroyed. Because of the continuing efforts of cultural detectives and record devotees, the stories of America’s earliest musicians can now finally be told.

Directors Bernard MacMahon and Allison McGourty, , spent years traveling around the US in search of recollections of those musical pioneers. Here is their fascinating account of how and what they found and we have new stories, never-before-seen photographs, and unearthed artwork. We also see contributions from many of the musicians who participated including Taj Mahal, Nas, Willie Nelson, and Steve Martin, plus a behind-the-scenes look at the incredible journey across America.

“American Epic” is an extraordinary testament to our country’s musical roots, the transformation of our culture, and the artists who gave us modern popular music.


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