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Program Summaries
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Smithsonian Institution

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Major Funding by:
Corporation for Public Broadcasting
National Endowment for the Arts

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The Mississippi: River of Song

This multi-media production includes:

Television Series

Radio Series

CD Set

Companion Book

Interactive Website

Educational Outreach

Public Events
The Mississippi: River of Song is a Smithsonian Institution series for public television and radio that explores the richness and vitality of American music at the close of the twentieth century. Through live performances and intimate discussions with musicians along the course of the Mississippi River, the series discovers the music that has flourished in the heart of the nation. Traveling from an Ojibwe powwow in northern Minnesota to the bandstands of New Orleans, the series builds a dynamic and complex portrait of music and the American community. PBS broadcast of the series is scheduled to begin January 6, 1999 (four consecutive Wednesday nights) with South Carolina Educational Television as the presenter.
       After five years of research and planning, a Smithsonian production team spent twelve weeks on location in 1997, traveling 12,000 miles in river country and filming 200 hours of original material. A total of 50 acts and over 500 musicians were recorded in 30 towns and cities, in all 10 states along the Mississippi. (To know more about how the project was put together, make sure to read Producer/Director John Junkerman's Introduction to the companion book.)
       The story is told by the people who keep American music wonderfully alive with their varied sounds and voices -- from Minneapolis rock to St. Louis gospel and Memphis soul; from bluegrass bands in the Farm Belt to the blues in the Mississippi Delta; from Scandinavian fiddlers in the North Woods to Cajun stompers in the Louisiana bayous.
       Series host Ani DiFranco will be our guide on a journey that crosses boundaries of genre, geography and ethnicity to reveal the streams of artistic and cultural influence that flow through our national landscape. DiFranco's place on the cutting edge of American folk rock (Rolling Stone magazine called her "one of the decade's defining voices") is a perfect match with the series. At 27, DiFranco has self-produced 10 albums on her own label, co-headlined a tour with Bob Dylan, and is now releasing work by other artists, starting with her critically acclaimed collaboration with American folk legend Utah Phillips.

This multi-media production includes:
  • A four-part television series for broadcast in the United States, Japan and Europe;
  • A seven-part radio series on Public Radio International;
  • A 2-disc set of CDs produced by Smithsonian Folkways;
  • A companion book illustrated by 160 photographs and published by St. Martin's Press;
  • An educational outreach package (including resources such as a website, a teachers guide developed by the Music Educators National Conference and posters);
  • A series of public events, including regional premieres and a national event hosted by the Smithsonian Office of Folklife Programs.
       Major funding has been provided by Hitachi, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, PBS and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional funding provided by the Missouri Division of Tourism, the Southern Humanities Media Fund, the Tennessee Department of Tourism, the Louisiana Office of Tourism, Mississippi River Country and the Adler Foundation. Special thanks to Kajima Corporation.
       River of Song is a coproduction of Smithsonian Productions, the Filmmakers Collaborative, and KajimaVision Productions.

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