Filmmaker Ken Burns visits Memphis ahead of documentary release

Jim Strickland, left, and Ken Burns, right, make conversation before Burns speaks to a crowd at a private event at Sam Phillips Recording Studio.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Preceding the release of his country music documentary, filmmaker Ken Burns visited Memphis on a tour to country music landmarks across the United States.

Burns’ new documentary, “Country Music: A Film by Ken Burns,” chronicles country music from its beginnings to the genre’s status now in an eight-part film that totals 16.5 hours long.

An image from Ken Burns’ tour bus.

Sam Phillips and Sun Studio are large parts of that history, so Burns made sure to stop in the city of blues in an ode to Memphis’ country music past.

“We hope that we are able to bring alive what took place here and on Union Avenue with your father [Sam Phillips],” Burns said, speaking to Jerry Phillips, the son of Sam Phillips. “Your father did something hugely important in the early ’50s. As he put it, ‘We knocked the s*** out of the color line.'”

Part of Burns’ stop in Memphis included a private event at the Sam Phillips Recording Studio, only a short walk from the historic Sun Studio. Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland was in attendance.

Sam Phillips Recording Studio on Madison Avenue.

Strickland said he and Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris declared Tuesday as “Ken Burns Country Music Day” in Memphis and Shelby County.

Burns said his goal is to tell common stories, but in an uncommon way. He wanted to tell parts of stories that are often overlooked, which he said there are many of in country music.

“We are interested just in telling stories, and how in the case of country music, you are not seduced by the simple, superficial constructions—the conventional wisdom about it,” Burns said.

The documentary premiers on PBS on Sept. 15.

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