Published Apr 08, 2015Whether it's compiling the best of Paramount Records or reissuing classic 7-inches from Sun Records, Jack White has become something of an American music historian. This fall, he will continue to explore his favourite subject by executive producing a documentary series along with T Bone Burnett and Robert Redford.
The project is called American Epic. This three-part documentary will examine a period in the late 1920s when, according to a press release, "record company talent scouts toured America with a recording machine and for the first time captured the raw expression of an emerging culture. It democratized music and gave a voice to the poorest in the nation."
These recordings captured music like blues, country, gospel, Hawaiian, Cajun and folk.
The period will be explored with unearthed film footage, photographs and interviews with some survivors from the era. The series will air on PBS and BBC Arena this fall.
The documentary is being directed by Bernard MacMahon, who co-created it with producer Allison McGourty. They're also making The American Epic Sessions, a full-length feature for which the filmmakers carefully reassembled a recording machine from the '20s. This will allow contemporary musicians to record using methods from nearly 90 years ago.
White and Burnett will produce the music for The American Epic Sessions, and performers will include Beck, Nas, Willie Nelson, Alabama Shakes, Merle Haggard, Elton John, the Avett Brothers, Bettye LaVette, Los Lobos, Raphael Saadiq, Taj Mahal, Steve Martin & Edie Brickell, Rhiannon Giddens (of Carolina Chocolate Drops), Pokey LaFarge and more. White, of course, will also perform.
Columbia Records will release these contemporary performances, while Legacy Recordings will launch a series of archival recordings from the '20s and '30s. Third Man Records will issue a deluxe vinyl box set.
White said in a statement, "In American Epic we can examine how important the fact is that when phonograph records were invented, for the first time ever, women, minorities, poor rural men and even children were given the opportunity to say whatever they wanted in song, for the whole world to hear, shockingly without much censorship. What they were allowed to say on phonograph recordings, they were not allowed to speak in public or in person. That is an astounding thought."
American Epic will be released on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download through PBS Distribution.