Ken Burns' Country Music ended last night with "Don't Get Above Your Raisin' (1984-1996)." As its title and time frame imply, the series' swan song considered how several stars caught up in the '80s rise of new traditionalists and the '90s explosion of stadium tours and CD sales maintained a much-needed sense of humility. Through this lens, the likes of Reba McEntire and Garth Brooks get treated as undeniable pop culture game-changers with the home-spun common sense to never get too big for their britches.
As for the series' stopping point, 1996 represents the year Bill Monroe passed. The loss of bluegrass' father inspired two of his musical sons, Marty Stuart and Ricky Skaggs, to stop chasing popular success and revisit their roots. Hopefully, that plotline sparks further discussion about the origins of Americana's rise to respectability.
Read on for five final takes on a 16-and-a-half hour journey through the history of 20th century country music.
Reba McEntire's Father Was a World Champion Cattle Roper
You don't have to live a Chris LeDoux song as a child to be a credible country singer, but it sure doesn't hurt. Reba McEntire's father Clark McEntire, who died in 2015 at the age of 86, won cattle roping world titles in 1957, 1958 and 1961. As a champion's tag-along, Reba lived the full Oklahoma experience long before discovering her ability to make folks laugh and cry through song.
The Judds Studied the Delmore Brothers
Before the band Alabama and even the Louvin Brothers shared the blood harmonies and Protestant ethics of Alabama's Sand Mountain region with the masses, early Grand Ole Opry attraction and local product the Delmore Brothers set the pace for family singing groups. As Burns' team reminds us, Naomi and Wynonna Judd studied the Delmore's recordings while plotting their own pursuit of mainstream stardom.
Warner Music Nashville Hated Dwight Yoakam's Use of the Word "Hillbilly"
Before achieving widespread acclaim, Dwight Yoakam terrified his big label support team with the unironic use of "hillbilly" in the song "Guitars, Cadillacs." After a whirlwind first year as a mainstream artist, Yoakam probably faced little to no resistance when he named his 1987 sophomore album Hillbilly Deluxe. Ain't it funny how money changes things?
Only 200 People Per Night Saw Emmylou Harris' At The Ryman Concerts
The Ryman had been left to decay for 17 years before Emmylou Harris and her backing band The Nash Ramblers played there on April 30- May 2, 1991. Because of safety concerns, only 200 per night were admitted to one of the best-known residencies of the past 30 years. Quite a few more experienced moments from those nights after the fact when At The Ryman became a Grammy-winning live album.
Kathy Mattea Can Bring a Tear to a Glass Eye
If you watched last night's episode, you probably cried over Kathy Mattea's retelling of a specific CMA Fan Fair memory. Real talk: I've seen that segment three times now, and it still gets to me. That's all we'll say, because no one wants to bawl at work.