Winner 2017 Association Recorded Sound Collections Award for Excellence - Best Historical Research in Recorded Roots, Folk or World Music Book

"Essential. 5 Stars"

- Maik Bruggemeyer, Rolling Stone -

American Epic Book_Standup Combo_Mendoza.jpg

American Epic:


The First Time America Heard Itself

The companion book to the groundbreaking BBC and PBS documentary series celebrating the pioneers and artists of American roots music—blues, gospel, folk, Cajun, Appalachian, Hawaiian, Native American—without which there would be no jazz, rock, country, R&B, or hip hop today.

American Epic is a historical music project exploring the pivotal recording journeys of the early twentieth century, which for the first time captured the breadth of American music and made it available to the world. It was, in a very real way, the first time America truly heard herself.

In the 1920s and 1930s, as radio took over the pop music business, record companies were forced to leave their studios in major cities in search of new styles and markets. Ranging the mountains, prairies, rural villages, and urban ghettos of America, they discovered a wealth of unexpected talent—farmers, laborers, and ethnic minorities playing styles that blended the intertwining strands of Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas. These recordings form the bedrock for modern music as we know it, but during the Depression many record companies went out of business and more than ninety percent of the fragile 78 rpm discs were destroyed. Fortunately, thanks to the continuing efforts of cultural detectives and record devotees, the stories of America’s earliest musicians can finally be told.

Bernard MacMahon and Allison McGourty, who directed and produced the documentary with American musician Duke Erikson, spent years traveling around the US in search of recollections of those musical pioneers. Their fascinating account, written with the assistance of prize-winning author Elijah Wald, continues the journey of the series and features additional stories, never-before-seen photographs, and unearthed artwork. It also contains contributions from many of the musicians who participated including Taj Mahal, Nas, Willie Nelson, and Steve Martin, plus a behind-the-scenes look at the incredible journey across America.

American Epic is an extraordinary testament to our country’s musical roots, the transformation of our culture, and the artists who gave us modern popular music.


"The companion 280-page hardback book is a beauty with high production values allowing you to linger on the rich detail of all those historic photos that came up on screen as part of the series - it is wonderful to read."

- Ian Anderson, fRoots -


"The book makes a superb companion, chronicling the ten-year journey taken by the British-born MacMahon and his producer Allison McGourty across the US in search of the earliest roots of recorded American music. The book tells the story evocatively through archive photography, the reproduction of historical documents and the use of some gripping personal testimony. 5 Stars"

- Nigel Williamson, Songlines -