Jack White, T Bone Burnett Dig Into America’s First Roots Recordings on New Series

American Epic, a series about the beginnings of American recorded music produced by T Bone Burnett, Robert Redford and Jack White, will air this fall on PBS.

The three-part historical documentary includes new footage of artists such as White, Alabama Shakes and Beck recording songs from the 1920s. Columbia Records will release a soundtrack of the contemporary performances; Sony Music’s Legacy Recordings will release a companion series of archival recordings. White’s Third Man Records will release a deluxe box of vinyl records.

Two British filmmakers, Bernard MacMahon and Allison McGourty, retrace the steps of early recording pioneers who traveled the U.S. with recording machines to capture talent in rural areas. Those recordings, made in the 1920s and ’30s, were the first to capture blues, country, gospel, Hawaiian, Cajun and folk music.

The series chronicles the stories of those musicians through previously unseen film footage, unpublished photographs and exclusive interviews with some of the last living witnesses to that era.

The new recordings for the series, produced by White and Burnett, were made on equipment from the era.  Among the other musicians involved are the Avett Brothers, Frank Fairfield, Rhiannon Giddens, Merle Haggard, Elton John, Pokey LaFarge, Bettye LaVette, Los Lobos, Taj Mahal, Steve Martin & Edie Brickell, Nas, Willie Nelson and Raphael Saadiq.

The Grammy Museum in Los Angeles will create education and public programs to complement the series, which will air in the U.K. on the BBC.