“AMERICAN EPIC,” a fascinating new three-part historical documentary film series produced by Allison McGourty, Duke Erikson and director Bernard MacMahon, and executive produced by Jack White, T-Bone Burnett and Robert Redford, premiered on PBS on May 16, with the final episode airing tonight, Tuesday May 30, and premiered Sunday May 21 on BBC with the final episode airing Sunday June 4. The series explores the pivotal recording journeys at the height of the Roaring Twenties, when music scouts armed with cutting-edge recording technology captured the breadth of American music and discovered the artists that would shape our world.
The final episode of “AMERICAN EPIC,” titled “Out of the Many, The One,” features the story of blues pioneer Mississippi John Hurt, who was first discovered in the small town of Avalon, Mississippi, in the late 1920s. OKeh Records recorded several songs of his in Memphis and later sent him a copy of the record—but Hurt had nothing to play it on. His music would be forgotten for several decades until being rediscovered in the late 1950s by a new generation of blues enthusiasts. Hurt, who at this point had disappeared into obscurity in Avalon, was tracked down by musicologist Dick Spotswood. He was invited to appear at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival and reached a level of fame he had never imagined.
Watch an exclusive clip from “AMERICAN EPIC” that features the only known color motion picture footage of Mississippi John Hurt performing. Shot by record collector Ken Swerilas at a small club in Los Angeles, it shows Hurt performing the song “Louis Collins”:
“AMERICAN EPIC” will be available on Blu-ray and DVD on June 13 from PBS Distribution. The series will also be available for digital download.
PBS International, the co-production and distribution arm of PBS Distribution, is distributing AMERICAN EPIC to broadcasters and media companies worldwide.