Country: A Celebration of America's Music
Vince Gill Allan Harris
Vince Gill Wynonna Allan Harris
Created in partnership with the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts presents Country: A Celebration of America's Music, March 20– April 9, 2006. With honorary chair Vince Gill, the celebration will feature performances by many of country music’s greatest stars throughout the Center.

“Among the powerhouse names that will be performing at the Kennedy Center during this Festival are Vince Gill, Naomi Judd, Wynonna Judd, Travis Tritt, Country Music Hall of Fame member Kris Kristofferson, and Ray Price. The Grand Ole Opry, celebrating its 80th birthday this year, will perform in our concert hall for one night only,” said Center Chairman Stephen A. Schwarzman. “Other performers include Asleep at the Wheel and an acoustic super group including Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, Bela Fleck, Mark Schatz and Bryan Sutton. We are grateful to The Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum for partnering with us to create this incredible festival.”

“This festival honors country music, both past and present, as an important American art form,” said Museum Director Kyle Young. “It is a music that is firmly rooted in tradition, but always moving in new directions. Like the story we tell in the Museum, the Kennedy Center performances will reflect country music’s cultural diversity and its connections to other kinds of music,” he said. “Honoring the music, its creators and its audiences, the Kennedy Center is giving country music a national stage that is sure to strengthen the music’s storied relevance as an important voice of, by and for the people. We couldn’t be more thrilled.”

"Along with jazz, country music is America's music," said Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser. "As the nation's performing arts center, we feel that it is important to celebrate and highlight this uniquely American form of artistic expression."

A Unique Art Rooted in America's Heritage

Country: A Celebration of America's Music will include a performance by country legends in the Concert Hall on Friday, March 31; a celebration of the Grand Ole Opry in the Concert Hall on Sunday, March 26; concerts in the Eisenhower Theater, Terrace Theater and Jazz Club focusing on instrumental legends, the roots and regional influences of the art form, and many free performances including the festival finale celebrating the ninth anniversary of the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage, which offers free performances every day of the year.

The festival will include an exhibition of Hatch Show Print posters, made from hand-carved wood blocks, from the archives of the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum. Launched in Nashville in the 19th century, Hatch remained one of America's six leading letterpress print shops well into the 20th century. From carnivals, circuses and minstrel shows to the Tennessee Valley Authority's consumer education programs, from Marquis the Magician to Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong and a litany of Grand Ole Opry stars, and from early B-movies to the phenomenon of Elvis Presley, Hatch posters proclaimed the advent of great musicians, entertainment events and new products across the South. Several education programs will also complement the festival, including a country music guitar master class, a songwriters-in-the-round event featuring professional tunesmiths swapping songs, telling stories and commenting on their craft and a country dance series.

Country: A Celebration of America's Music will highlight country music's most accomplished singers, musicians and songwriters, while making connections to the music's traditional roots and exploring its regional and stylistic variations.

A Historical View on America's Musical Legacy

Today's country music has deep roots in the diverse strains of American folk music, including mountain balladry, blues and gospel music. Early record companies discovered untapped audiences for such folk-based fare, calling the music "Old Time Tunes", "Old Southern Tunes", and "Old Familiar Tunes." The music became known as hillbilly music, then country & western, and now, country.

Country music really came into full flower in the 1920s. The first recording to demonstrate country music's sales potential was a 1923 OKeh disc by Atlanta's Fiddlin' John Carson combining "The Little Ole Log Cabin in the Lane" and "The Old Hen Cackled and the Rooster's Going to Crow." Vernon Dalhart's 1925 Victor release, pairing "Wreck of the Old 97" and "The Prisoner's Song," was country's first million-seller. In 1927, Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family made their first recordings in Bristol near the Tennessee-Virginia border. The Bristol Sessions, as they would come to be regarded, were a seminal turning point for country music, with Rodgers and the Carters emerging as country's first real stars.

The social disruption brought by World War II had a profound impact on country music. Rural southerners enlisted in droves or migrated to the cities to work in the defense industry. By the 1950s, this heightened exposure had helped turn country into big business. Much of that business focused on Nashville, home of radio station WSM's increasingly powerful Grand Ole Opry. But "hillbilly fever" also spread to Hollywood and other commercial centers throughout the United States. The music continued to develop as well, with honky-tonk, bluegrass, and other substyles filling country jukeboxes.

In the 21st century, country is mainstream music encompassing many different styles and connecting to other genres. It has traveled from porches, churches and schoolhouses to stadiums and Central Park, and from Music Row to Madison Avenue.

Dates and artists subject to change.

Country: A Celebration of America’s Music is sponsored by Altria Group, Inc. and Southern Company.
Altria and Southern Co. Logos

Additional support is provided by The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. William C. Powers, Gibson Musical Instruments, Toyota and Viacom and CMT Country Music Television.
Presentation of artists from Texas is supported by the Rosewood Hotels/Crescent Endowment Fund.