The Source of Country Music

Ken Burns has released another of his famed documentary series with this program focusing on the humble origins of country music. And what artistic mastery is featured within the first 30 seconds of the first episode of the series, which aired yesterday, Sunday the 15th, on PBS? That would be “The Source of Country Music,” the last complete painting by famous American artist Thomas Hart Benton, and one of the finest paintings in our American Art collection.

The Source of Country Music by Thomas Hart Benton
Thomas Hart Benton’s painting “The Source of Country Music”

“Country Music, A Film by Ken Burns” spends sixteen hours over eight episodes exploring the deeply rooted sources of what we categorize today as American country music. The series spans the evolution of the music genre over the 20th century, and includes interviews of some eighty country music artists, while revealing many never-before-seen photographs and footage.

The first episode opens with an interview with Kathy Mattea, who at 19 began working as a tour guide in the Country Music Hall of Fame. It just so happens that one of the prized possessions of the organization’s collection is the last painting by Thomas Hart Benton, “The Source of Country Music.” Mattea explains what it was like looking at the iconic work of art every day, even referring to the reproduction print in her hands as “looking at an old friend.” She goes on to describe the painting as follows: “so it shows the barn dances, it shows the railroad, riverboats, the gospel choirs, the lap dulcimers, and the fiddles. And it shows the cowboys and the banjo coming from Africa and the slaves and how all of this came together. It’s just a beautiful thing to look at because it’s the closest thing visually, really, to what country music sounds like . It’s so colorful, there’s so much energy in it.”

Framed art print of The Source of Country Music by Thomas Hart Benton
Framed art print of The Source of Country Music by Thomas Hart Benton

Our advice is to snuggle up with a cup of tea, and enjoy a comprehensive history on the origins of country music from our favorite public broadcast network, PBS. And, in case you’re interested in bringing home a version of this painting for your very own, or, know a country music fan who would revel in a gift that keeps on giving, visit our site to find your very own copy!

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