Country Music,” a film by Ken Burns, explores the uniquely American art form that rose from the experiences of extraordinary people in distinctive regions of our nation, and its evolution throughout the 20th-century.

The film captivated a wide audience, including musicians with careers rooted in the history of country music. Below, Tanya Tucker, Marcus King, Brooke Aldridge, and Ruston Kelly reflect on their first encounters and how those experiences inspire the music they make today.

Danny Clinch

Tanya Tucker

Tanya Tucker is the original female country outlaw. She achieved chart-topping success with 15 number one hits, 41 top 10 hits, and 23 top 40 albums. 17 years after the release of her last record, Tucker released While I’m Livin’, a tell-all full of wisdom, wit, and heart. The album—produced by Grammy award-winning artist Brandi Carlile and Shooter Jennings—earned her Grammy nominations for Song Of The Year and Best Country Album.

“I started out singing ‘You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take My Man)!’ My dad would say, ‘Tanya, you have to put 10 times more feeling into it than Loretta because no one is going to believe a little girl singing that song.’ So when I was seven years old singing Loretta Lynn songs at talent shows, I gave it everything I had. That song made me feel strong and empowered, even as a kid.”

“I love a good, strong female empowerment message, so I’m always looking for a song that stands the test of time and can achieve what Loretta had to say, and still has to say. On my new record While I’m Livin’, I felt like we had some attitude and sass with ‘I Don’t Owe You Anything.’ Brandi Carlile wrote it with the twins, Tim Hanseroth and Phil Hanseroth and they did a damn good job!”

Alysse Gafkjen

Marcus King

Marcus King is a fourth-generation performer who started learning guitar at age three or four and has played professionally since 11. He and his group, The Marcus King Band, played over 140 shows the last year, embarked on a string of tour dates with Chris Stapleton, and received critical acclaim for the soulfully triumphant album Carolina Confessions. King’s debut solo album El Dorado, produced by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, comes out in January 2020.

“The first country song I remember hearing is George Jones singing ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today.’ It was from a live album my grandfather and I would listen to on repeat. I believe the album opened with ‘I Don’t Need No Rockin' Chair.’”

“The way you can tell a story through a country song and put the listener right there with you is something I always dreamed of doing, whether it was to let them know you know how they feel or take them away from where they were to a whole new place. Country music takes you where you need to be. In the words of my late grandad ‘Long live country music.’”

Darin and Brook Aldridge
Patrick Sheehan

Brooke Aldridge, of Darin and Brooke Aldridge

Darin and Brooke Aldridge are an Americana duo who have spent the past decade amassing a loyal following while achieving an impressive list of accomplishments including three Female Vocalist awards for Brooke and a Mentor of the Year Award for Darin, a highly-regarded multi-instrumentalist. They are quickly becoming Grand Ole Opry favorites with 19 appearances in the last two years, and their new album Inner Journey just debuted on the Billboard Top Country, Americana/Folk, and Top New Artist charts.

Patrick Sheehan

“We recall hearing Dolly Parton’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ for the very first time. What an incredible song! Talk about a song that tugs on your heartstrings. Just to know the story behind that song and the fact that it was Dolly’s song to Porter in reminding him that she was forever grateful to him in helping guide her career and she would always love him regardless of where life took them. Even though it was hard for Porter to let Dolly go and build her own career he knew it was what he had to do. That’s love right there. The depth and meaning that you feel in that song is exactly everything a wonderfully written song should be. This song makes you feel so many emotions. Sad, happy, encouragement, hope, love while giving great advice too.”

“When Darin and I began our musical journey it was as a couple who wanted to inspire and uplift others through the songs we were recording. To portray an honest message and allow our love to encourage everyone who heard it. It’s incredibly special to be able to connect with people and share songs that reflect upon real-life experiences. That’s what genuine music does, it takes you back to a time and place when you felt those same things.”

“On our latest album Inner Journey, we feel we have so many great songs that speak to people on a personal level in the same way as Dolly’s ‘I Will Always Love You.’ There’s one in particular titled ‘When You Love Someone,’ a great Bryan Adams and Gretchen Peters song. It describes everything that Love really is and the sacrifices that are made when you truly love someone just as Dolly and Porter loved and respected each other. Darin and I feel we have incorporated those types of messages in all of our albums and know that we’ll continue to do that for many years to come.”

Alexa King

Ruston Kelly

Ruston Kelly is a soul-baring singer and songwriter who started playing guitar under the direction of his dad, Tim “TK” Kelly, a pedal-steel guitarist who now performs in his band. His critically acclaimed sophomore album Dying Star, and special brand of confessional songwriting that he fondly refers to as “Dirt Emo,” has earned him a rapidly growing fanbase. Kelly will make his headline debut at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium on Friday, March 6, 2020.

“To say I’ve been influenced by the Carter Family is an understatement. When I first heard their 1927 recordings—considered the ‘Big Bang’ of country, folk, and Americana music—I was changed forever; Maybelle Carter remains one of my greatest musical influences. Recently, her grandson and my good friend, John Carter Cash, encouraged me to take some alone time out at his ‘grandparent’s place’ in Virginia. He was, of course, referring to the house the Carters lived in in the 40s and that Johnny Cash and June Carter ended up keeping in their family. Tucked deep into Poor Valley, on the side of Clinch Mountain, I spent a week in solitude, playing guitar by the creek, walking barefoot on the same worn paths these heroes of mine had. I went there on a personal mecca, and I left profoundly moved and grateful for the peace and spirit that family instilled there. On a stormy night in their living room, I started recording this song. It was recorded by the Carter Family 92 years ago and I’m proud to share my take on such an impactful piece of music history.”