Documenting American Music's Hidden Royal Family

March 26, 2014   |   posted in Filmmakers

bethharringtonciff.jpg

Music has always been a central part of “The Winding Stream” director Beth Harrington’s life.

“I’m a musician myself,” she says. “I sang in rock’n’roll bands for years.” Her love of music, and music history, led her to the creation
 of “Welcome to the Club: The Women of Rockabilly.”

“While I was working on it, I met all these women who talked about their influences, and the Carters kept coming up.” The coincidences kept building as Roseanne Cash came on board to narrate the documentary. “I was aware of the connection between Johnny Cash and June Carter, and this original Carter family that goes back to the 1920s, and I thought, ‘Gee, no one’s really told that whole story.’”

Harrington decided that a documentary about the Carters would be her next project, and planned to contact Roseanne Cash about it once “Welcome to the Club” was finished, but Roseanne emailed her before she could do so. She had been vacationing with her family and had realized that she knew the perfect person to tell their story.

“She said, ‘Beth should be down here making a film about this.’” The invitation was exactly what Harrington had hoped for, and soon she found herself filming Johnny Cash in one of his final interviews before his death in 2003.

“Johnny Cash, I’d always known about and loved. But the Carters were just a set of figures where I didn’t think I had internalized their music.” Although she knew some Carter songs, she had no idea how ubiquitous their music was within American identity. “I didn’t know them the way I know Beatles music, but when I got to know the music, I realized, ‘Oh my god, this is in everything.’” Their body of work was “almost like an encyclopedia of American music.”

Harrington, who has worked on award-winning shows like NOVA and Frontline, has three themes that tend to run through all of her work: music, American culture, and—surprisingly—religion.

“I keep seeing it pop up. That’s a common thread that I don’t even expect,” she marvels. The religious and spiritual identities of different American groups fascinate her and frequently become a fundamental part of her examination of the diversity of American identity.

The Carters, in particular, intrigue her for the way their songs often trip off of the lips of people who have never consciously heard of them. “We might even think we don’t know who they are, but when we say ‘keep on the sunny side,’ or ‘will the circle be unbroken,’ people know those songs,” she points out. Now, people can know the family behind the songs as well.

—Lara Klaber
Photo by Nanekia Morgan

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Related Screenings:
03/25/14 @ 8:55 PM – The Winding Stream
03/26/14 @ 7:00 PM – The Winding Stream
03/27/14 @ 11:25 AM – The Winding Stream

Related Events:
03/25/15 @ 7:00 PM – Rick Whitbeck Evening at the Cedar Lee Theatre

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