According to Dayton Duncan, one of the producers of Ken Burns’s latest documentary series, Country Music, two milestone events occurred in Asheville in 1927. One was the journey of young Jimmie Rodgers from his home in Asheville to Bristol, Tennessee, where he cut his first record and began a career that would later see him named the Father of Country Music. The other was the founding of a small college in the mountains that would one day grow into the state’s designated liberal arts and sciences university, UNC Asheville.
Those two journeys crossed again on April 2, 2019, when Duncan and co-producers Julie Dunfey and Pam Tubridy Baucom brought a special advanced screening of Country Music to UNC Asheville’s new Blue Ridge Room, where more than 500 members of the Asheville community gathered for a sneak-peek at a few clips of the 16-hour documentary. The full documentary will air on PBS, including local UNC-TV, in September.
Duncan, Dunfey and Baucom also took time to meet with faculty and students from various departments on campus, including history, mass communication and music—all disciplines that came into play during the creation of the Country Music documentary.
“They asked us about the films and what the history is, how you go about it and make your decisions, and as Dayton pointed out it’s an ongoing process, and you’re doing many things at once, so being able to juggle a lot of different inputs and being able to do a lot of research and being dedicated to that is very important,” Baucom said. “Basically when you’re in a classroom and you’re taking a new subject you never took, you’re doing what we do, which is discover something.”
Duncan noted that, while Ken Burns had a fairly direct career path from college to documentary filmmaker, Duncan’s own path had a few more twist and turns.
“When I was in college, I went from thinking I was going to be a lawyer, to thinking I was going to be an English professor, and after I was out of college I thought I was going to be a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper reporter, and then I thought I was going to be an aide to the next President of the United States, then I thought I was going to be a magazine writer, and here I am writing and producing films with the best documentary filmmaker in the United States,” Duncan said.
He advised students to be open to possibilities and take advantage of their time in school to explore their interests and passions.
“There’s lots of ways to get to wherever it is you’re going to end up,” Duncan said. “Instead of thinking, ‘this is going to prepare me for life,’ it sometimes turns into, ‘I have to know what is going to be happening, and I feel pressure to do that,’” Duncan said. He recommended “viewing college as a time to learn, sample from the smorgasbord of knowledge that’s laid before you.”
“People have a true north inside them,” Duncan continued. “If you can find it, steer towards that, even if you zigzag.”
Country Music came to UNC Asheville through Chancellor Nancy J. Cable’s connection with Ken Burns through her work with The Better Angels Society, and her previous work at the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, which provided support for public media.
“Ken and I and Florentine Films have had a great relationship with your chancellor for many years,” Duncan said. “We had a great appreciation for her leadership there…and that will all now be focused on this university.”
Country Music will begin airing on PBS on September 15, 2019. Tune in locally at https://www.unctv.org/. To learn more about events at UNC Asheville visit unca.edu/events.