Ballad of a Mountain Man (no website available)
Bascom Lamar Lunsford and his campaign to preserve mountain music and dance.
Bascom Lamar Lunsford was a pioneer folklorist who in the 1920s began a campaign to preserve mountain music and dance. He dignified what was known as "hillbilly music." Knocking on doors of local banjo pickers and fiddlers, listening to their songs, he amassed an extraordinary repertoire, recorded for the Library of Congress and started the first folk music festival.
Barnum's Big Top (no website available)
P.T. Barnum -- huckster, con man, promoter and entertainer.
P.T. Barnum was huckster, con man, promoter and entertainer. His American Museum featured ancient relics side by side with such "living curiosities" as lions, snakes, bearded ladies and Siamese twins. In 1871 he took the whole show on the road; it traveled by rail. Barnum introduced the idea of three rings, and his "Jumbo the Elephant" added a new word to the English language. By the time he teamed up with James Bailey, his circus had become "The Greatest Show on Earth."
Just as the American frontier was disappearing, "Buffalo Bill" Cody transformed himself into a master showman, creating a world-famous traveling show that brought the "real" Wild West to life.
(Watch the program online.)
William "Buffalo Bill" Cody's legendary exploits helped create the myth of the American West that still endures today. Born in an Iowa log cabin in 1846, he fought Indians, worked as a Pony Express rider, and earned his nickname while hunting buffalo to feed the construction crews of the Kansas Pacific Railroad. After the Civil War he scouted for the U.S. Army along America's vast western frontier. In 1883, just as that frontier was disappearing, he transformed himself into a master showman, creating and starring in a world-famous traveling show that brought the "real" Wild West to life. Part circus, part history, Buffalo Bill's Wild West toured for three decades, playing to enthusiastic crowds across the United States and Europe.
Duke Ellington -- Reminiscing in Tempo (no website available)
The international star who created some of the most exciting music America had ever heard.
At a time when black and white musicians rarely performed together, when black musicians were exploited by record companies, Ellington was an international star. He made the Cotton Club his showcase for original jazz compositions, some of the most exiting music America had ever heard. Underscored with more than 40 Ellington pieces.
Eudora Welty -- One Writer's Beginnings (no website available)
A writer's Southern childhood and the development of her art.
Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Eudora Welty narrates the story of her own Southern childhood and early artistic development in Jackson, Mississippi. Based on her best-selling book of the same title.
Playwright Eugene O'Neill's turbulent story: from childhood through the years of his prolific career (including "The Iceman Cometh," "A Touch of the Poet," and the autobiographical masterpiece "Long Day's Journey Into Night") to his lonely, painful death
Eugene O'Neill tells the haunting story of the life and work of America's greatest and only Nobel Prize-winning playwright -- set within the context of the harrowing family dramas and personal upheavals that shaped him, and that he in turn struggled all his life to give form to in his art. More than a biography of the greatest literary genius the American theater has produced, the program is a moving meditation on loss and redemption, family and memory, the cost of being an artist, and the inescapability of the past.
It is also a penetrating exploration of the masterpieces O'Neill created only at the very end of his career -- "The Iceman Cometh" and "Long Day's Journey Into Night" pre-eminent among them -- brought to life in mesmerizing scenes performed especially for the production by some of the most gifted actors working in theater today, including Al Pacino, Zoe Caldwell, Christopher Plummer, Robert Sean Leonard, Liam Neeson, and Vanessa Redgrave.
Forbidden City, USA (no website available)
Chinese Americans defy cultural tradition to pursue their passion for American music and dance.
Before WWII, San Francisco's Chinatown was a separate world, closed to outsiders, ruled by rigid homeland customs. But in the 1930s, second generation Chinese Americans defied cultural tradition to pursue their passion for American music and dance. They started careers as "Chinese Fred Astaires" and "Chinese Frank Sinatras" in one of the city's famous Chinatown night clubs, Forbidden City.
French Dance Tonight (no website available)
Cajun and Zydeco music innovators and performers talk about the emergence of two musical traditions.
When French settlers, exiled from Nova Scotia, migrated to Louisiana in the 1750s, they mixed with African Americans, Afro-Caribbeans, and others to create one of America's richest, most varied cultures. The film captures many of Cajun and Zydeco music's most important innovators and performers as they talk about the emergence of two musical traditions.
God Bless America and Poland Too (no website available)
A nostalgic and humorous look at how old world Chicago lives side by side with the new.
Frank Popiolek was 14 when he came to America in 1911, one of 2 million Polish immigrants who made the journey. He settled in Chicago and became a barber, instilling in his family a love of the "old world" traditions and pride in their Polish heritage. A nostalgic and humorous look at how old world Chicago lives side by side with the new.
If You Knew Sousa (no website available)
America's favorite bandmaster.
John Phillip Sousa became America's favorite bandmaster, but band music wasn't Sousa's only passion. He was the first to bring the classics -- Verdi, Wagner, Puccini -- to a burgeoning American middle class. Wildly popular, his was the first large musical organization to go on tour and make music pay. He helped give birth to that great American institution, the small town marching band.
Actress, businessperson, and legend -- Mary Pickford played a pivotal role in shaping the first new media of the twentieth century.
Late in her life, the actor Mary Pickford described a recurring nightmare in which she walked out on stage to perform, only to find there was no one in the audience to watch her. For most of her career, Pickford had played to full houses and adoring fans. She had created a totally new way of acting that entranced audiences and left them spell-bound.
But Mary Pickford wasn't just a talented performer; she was also a creative producer and shrewd businessperson who played a pivotal role in shaping the first new media of the twentieth century. She was the first star to have her own production company and the first woman to take control of her career in a tough business run by tough men. For nearly two decades Pickford skillfully navigated her way through the industry. But by the end of her life, her nightmare became her reality. She discovered that fame was fleeting, the crowds fickle.
This powerful and moving American Experience
production uses archival footage, stills, original audio interviews with Pickford and clips from her movies to tell a story that is full of joy and power, of loneliness and despair.
Midnight Ramble (no website available)
The little-known story of a black independent film industry.
The little-known story of a black independent film industry that thrived outside of Hollywood and produced close to 500 feature movies for African American audiences between 1910 and 1940. Many race movies tackled some of the difficult social issues that confronted black urban society: alcoholism, crime, morality, class conflict, even racism and lynching, setting the stage for today's independent black cinema movement.
Focusing primarily on the century from Reconstruction to school desegregation in the 1960s, the film offers a portrait of New Orleans that both explores its unique and distinctive culture and illuminates its central place on the American landscape.
New Orleans: the utterly original American city that lies at the mouth of the mighty Mississippi and at the beating heart of the great American experiment. Walled in on almost all sides by water, pressed together by the demands and dangers of geography, the crowded streets of New Orleans have always been a laboratory where the social forces that characterize American life play out in dramatic and, at times, disastrous fashion. Over the course of two provocative hours, American Experience tells the story of this remarkable city. Focusing primarily on the century from Reconstruction to school desegregation in the 1960s, the film offers a portrait of New Orleans that both explores its unique and distinctive culture and illuminates its central place on the American landscape. Featuring the city's rich archival resources and a remarkable collection of on-camera commentators, the film also includes a series of verité-style portraits of New Orleans residents. The resulting cinematic narrative is a dialogue between past and present that highlights New Orleans' particular brand of humor, fatalism, and wry rebelliousness, while raising critical questions about what lies ahead for the city and the nation.
That Rhythm, Those Blues (no website available)
The evolution of rhythm and blues from the 1940s into the 50s.
The evolution of rhythm and blues through the careers of singers Ruth Brown and Charles Brown, from the 1940s into the 50s, with contemporary performances by both.
The Carter Family: Will the Circle Be Unbroken
The family whose songs and style remain the most copied and influential in American folk and country music.
Their music solaced a nation during the darkest days of the depression. The words to their songs captured the painful and moving stories of poor America's history and proved that simple songs about ordinary people are as timeless, moving and relevant as the most studied classics in history. The Carter Family's songs and style remain the most copied in American folk and country music, influencing artists across all genres including Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Ray Charles, Linda Ronstadt and Sheryl Crow.The Carter Family: Will the Circle Be Unbroken explores the lives of A. P., Sara and Maybelle Carter, following their story through 1943, when they stopped playing and recording together. The film includes rarely-seen photographs, memorabilia, and archival footage that chronicles the life and music of the famous and influential trio.The Carters lived the poverty and heartbreak of the poor rural America they sang of, and, through music, brought a dignity and understanding to an often-misunderstood culture. Carter Family songs like "Wildwood Flower," "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" and "Worried Man Blues" laid the foundations for country, folk and bluegrass music.
Views of a Vanishing Frontier (no website available)
The journey of Prince Maximilian, German naturalist, and artist Karl Bodmer, who explored the Mississippi River area from 1832-34.
The journey of Prince Maximilian, German naturalist, and artist Karl Bodmer, who explored the Mississippi River area from 1832-34, meticulously documenting in paintings and journals the landscape, plants and life of Native Americans.
Today one of the most-recognized figures in American literary history, poet Walt Whitman was denounced by critics in his own time.
On a hot summer day in 1855, a 36-year-old writer emerged from an undistinguished printer's shop in Brooklyn, New York, carrying a slim volume of his work. To family, friends and neighbors, Walter Whitman, Jr., may have been just a too-old bachelor who lived in his parents' attic, but as he walked the city streets that day, he knew something of himself they could not imagine. With his book of a dozen poems, Leaves of Grass, he was about to introduce America to a savior. Ominous events were on the horizon in America, and Walt Whitman offered up his poetry and his persona as a perfect reflection of the America he saw; it was daring, noble, naive, brutish, sexual, frightening and flawed.