The Grand Ole Opry is not only featured in the film but also assisted in its creation.

By Katie Quine • Photography by Erika Goldring • August 19, 2019

Distilling 70 years of country music history in 16 hours is no easy feat but preeminent filmmaker Ken Burns has done just that with Country Music, his latest project that has been nearly a decade in the making.

At the Grand Ole Opry, we’re thrilled to have been involved with the project in a big way: We were the largest contributor of photos, supplying more than 211 images, as well as 30 video clips for the docuseries.

Over the course of 94 years and counting, the Opry has lived and breathed country music. Sharing its story — and being a part of it, too — has taken on new meaning as we eagerly await Country Music’s September 15 premiere on PBS.

For the Opry archive team, one of the most interesting aspects of the project was assisting Burns’ team as it pored over never-ending strips of film negatives and prints. Film researchers made several trips to Nashville and the Opry, spending days at a time reviewing archival content.

“They practically lived here,” jokes Opry photo archivist Denny Adcock.

The sheer volume of the Opry photo archive is remarkable when you consider how many photos have been taken at each show over the course of decades. A dedicated team of Opry archivists spend their days managing the show’s assets, but even still, the work piles up. The Opry’s partnership with Ken Burns has allowed for the rediscovery of long-forgotten photos.

“Many of our photo assets have not yet been digitized, and through their research the team found a number of images we may not have otherwise uncovered for some time,” says Emily Frans, who manages the archives.

The Opry also licensed 118 photos for the documentary’s illustrated companion book of the same name and nine photos for the soundtrack.

Ahead of the documentary’s premiere, PBS will air Country Music: Live at the Ryman on September 8. The star-studded concert special was filmed at Ryman Auditorium, the Opry’s most famous former home. More than a dozen artists, including Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show, Rhiannon Giddens, and Vince Gill, paid tribute to the songs that have shaped country music from “In the Jailhouse Now” to “Crazy” to “I Will Always Love You.”

Those who wish to enjoy Country Music’s first episode alongside the genre’s most passionate fans can attend the Grand Ole Opry House’s premiere viewing event. The evening will also include a live performance by Old Crow Medicine Show and a pre-event reception. Tickets go on sale Friday, August 23 at 10 a.m. Central Time.