Skip to Navigation


Ken Burns's Acclaimed "The Civil War" Airs on PBS; Nonesuch Soundtrack Won Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album

Ken Burns: "The Civil War" [cover]

The Civil War, the five-part film by Ken Burns, deemed one of the most popular offering ever presented on public television, is airing anew on PBS stations across the United States this week. Nonesuch released the official soundtrack recording to the film back during its original run in 1990; it went on to win the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album the following year. The Civil War earned high critical acclaim for its debut telecast and was watched by over 14 million viewers each night. The documentary series traces the personal and political fortunes of both the leaders and the soldiers who were involved in America’s greatest internal conflict.

Featuring traditional American music ranging from brass bands to gospel choirs, “the music in The Civil War achieves an eloquence parallel to that of the narration, and it reinforces the visual illusion of aching, coming-to-life immediacy," wrote GQ magazine. "All the music is contemporary to the period; Burns even hired musicians to play instruments that are no longer made.” Ken Burns, the creator of the series, and John Colby served as producers of the recording.

Among the well-known American songs featured in The Civil War are “Battle Hymn of the Republic," “Dixie,” “Shenandoah,” and “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” The theme music to the series, “Ashokan Farewell”, a hauntinq fiddle tune, opens and closes the 30-track recording. It also includes two spoken word excerpts of an opening track taken from the writings of Oliver Wendell Holmes, and a reading of a love letter from a Union soldier to his wife which serves as the finale of the recording.

For more on the film and this week's broadcast, head to To pick up a copy of the Grammy-winning soundtrack, head to the Nonesuch Store now.


BBC World at War, the only broadcast that can touch it. Lawrence Olivier, enough said. Ken Burns production is very close.

Post new comment

Your email address is kept private and will not be shown publicly.