As we count down the days until the premiere of Ken Burns' new film Country Music, we've been exploring country's music roots here in our own backyard. Did you know that Hampton Roads was a key region in the development and popularization of country music? Read the features below to learn about our local connections to some of country music's greatest pioneers. 

Country Music in Hampton Roads

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Hampton Roads was one of the major areas that helped fuel the mass popularity of what had been a genre of music confined to more rural sections of the country.

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WCMS: Local Country Music Legend

When HR residents discuss local radio history one station and its legendary announcers remain synonymous with legend: WCMS—still considered as one of the greatest country music stations in the nation. It began broadcasting from Norfolk’s Helena Building, and quickly developed a devoted audience.

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South Norfolk's Singing Cowboys: The Phelps Brothers

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In the 1930s and 40s, much of country music was dominated by western swing and the persona of the singing cowboy. Artists like Roy Rogers, Tex Ritter and Gene Autry dominated the music playlists of the time. Tidewater had its own singing cowboys and they became the patriarchs of the local country music scene. 

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Norfolk's Gene Vincent Raised Rockabilly as a New Genre

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Gene Vincent

In the mid 1950s, Rockabilly emerged as a distinct country music sub-genre. Mixing rhythm and blues with country and western swing, it emerged in the 1950s with artists like Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and a Norfolk native named Gene Vincent. One of his performances in Norfolk led to his recording the song “Be-Bop- a Lula.” 

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George D. Hay: Founder of The Grand Ole Opry

George D. Hay's headstone in Norfolk

The longest running radio program in history of course is the Grand Ole Opry. Begun in 1925 by George D. Hay, the program has become synonymous with country music, and its weekly live broadcasts still attract thousands of fans. George D. Hay was once known as the most popular radio announcer in the nation. As a young newspaper reporter in Memphis he began his career as a late night announcer.

Do you know George's connection to Hampton Roads? 

Read the full story.

About the Film

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Explore the history of a uniquely American art form: country music. From its deep and tangled roots in ballads, blues and hymns performed in small settings, to its worldwide popularity, learn how country music evolved over the course of the twentieth century. The series, directed by Ken Burns, features never-before-seen footage and photographs, plus interviews with more than 80 country music artists. No one has told the story this way before.

Learn more about the film.

Read a Q&A with the filmmakers. 

Special Preview: Includes behind-the-scenes footage and exclusive film clips.

Watch the trailer:

The 8-part series begins September 15 on WHRO TV 15.  See full schedule for air times.

Episode One - "The Rub" (Beginnings - 1933) 
Learn how so-called “hillbilly music” reaches new listeners and launches its first stars’ careers.

Episode Two - "Hard Times" (1933 - 1945) 
Watch Nashville transform into Music City as America falls for singing cowboys and Texas Swing.

Episode Three - “The Hillbilly Shakespeare” (1945 – 1953)
Meet the country stars of post-war America, including the Hillbilly Shakespeare, Hank Williams.

Episode Four - “I Can’t Stop Loving You” (1953 – 1963)
Visit Memphis during the era of rockabilly, and see how Patsy Cline rises to stardom in Nashville.

Episode Five - “The Sons and Daughters of America” (1964 – 1968)
See how new country artists like Loretta Lynn and Charley Pride reflect a changing America.

Episode Six - “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” (1968 – 1972)
Learn what draws artists like Bob Dylan to Nashville as the Vietnam War rages.

Episode Seven - “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?” (1973 – 1983)
Witness a vibrant era in country music, thanks to mainstream crossovers and a new “Outlaw” sound.

Episode Eight - – “Don’t Get Above Your Raisin’” (1984 – 1996)
Learn how country music works to stay true to its roots as the genre skyrockets to new heights.