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“Stuarting” Country Music’s Legacy: Marty Stuart Fulfills His Mission in Ken Burns’ New Documentary Series

Ken Burns, Rosanne Cash, Marty Stuart, Dwight Yoakam, and "Country Music" producers Julie Dunfey and Dayton Duncan pose together at the Television Critics Association meeting. Photo Credit: Rahous Ghose, PBS

In this series of blogs inspired by Ken Burns’ documentary Country Music, which premiered Sunday, September 15 at 8 p.m. and continues this week through Wednesday, September 18 at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. on GPB, I’m taking a look back at some of my favorite interviews and experiences while working at the Country Music Association (CMA) in Nashville.


In the eight years filmmaker Ken Burns and his production staff spent crafting the 16-hour documentary series Country Music, they conducted over one hundred interviews, and with Marty Stuart, they found a tour de force.


Stuart, a Grammy-winning recording artist, musician, songwriter, country music archivist and photographer, speaks throughout the series about the music’s heritage and rightfully so.


For as much heart as he’s put into his own career, Stuart’s been an ardent steward of country music’s legacy since he started out as a 13-year-old in the ‘70s touring with bluegrass legend Lester Flatt. In the clip below, he's performing with Flatt on "The Porter Wagoner Show."



 Throughout his forty-plus year career, Stuart has assembled a private collection of country music memorabilia that spans over 20,000 pieces, and he is currently raising funds for The Marty Stuart Congress of Country Music (MSCCM). The world-class country music museum and performing arts center will house the collection in his hometown of Philadelphia, Mississippi.



For Stuart, it’s a dream a long time in making. When I first interviewed him for the February 1993 issue of CMA’s Close Up, his collection was in a warehouse.



“I got a warehouse and painted it and put lights on it,” Stuart says during the interview. “All my Nudie suits, all my guitars, all my records and photos are there. My favorite piece would have to be a Nudie suit owned by Hank Williams. I wouldn’t take a million dollars for it.”


As we talk at the kitchen table in his cabin and look out at the various photos throughout his home, he is clear. “My job is to tell people about the man on the wall,” he says pointing to a picture of Ernest Tubb. “Waylon (Jennings), Willie (Nelson), Kris (Kristofferson) and (Johnny) Cash. My job is tell young people about the Grand Ole Opry…”



Travis Tritt and Marty Stuart perform at the Grand Ole Opry in 1991; Photo Credit: Grand Ole Opry Archives, photo by Bill Thorup

At the time of the Close Up interview, Stuart was enjoying the commercial success of his “No Hats” tour with Travis Tritt and their hit “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin,’” but he was concerned about the musical knowledge of his concert attendees.


“…The young kids are lovin’ it, but a lot of them don’t know about George Jones or why the Grand Ole Opry exists,” Stuart said. “I think my mission is to tell them. I’d be lying to myself if I didn’t go ahead and do it, because that’s what I’m about. That’s where I come from in country music, and that where my passion lies.”


As Stuart’s vision for his collection comes closer to reality, he’s also performing at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum as part of its artist-in-residence shows with three shows during September. Learn more about the shows here.



And if you’re curious about what a “Nudie” suit is, be sure to tune in for the entire series, which continues through Wednesday, September 18 at 8 and 10 p.m. and picks up again with Episodes 5-8, Sunday, September 22-Wednesday, September 25 at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. You’ll find out about the work of Nuta Kotlyarenko (Nudie Cohn), who left Czarist Russia and achieved success in America as a designer to the stars.


Check out these Stuart additions to our GPB Goes Country playlist: “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’” and “Orange Blossom Special.”


Mandy Wilson

Mandy Wilson serves as the director of communications for GPB. In her role, she works on various marketing and public relations initiatives for the company. Prior to joining GPB, she worked at the Country Music Association and Group W Satellite... more