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Union County museum sees new attention after Ken Burns' 'Country Music' documentary

The documentary covers major country music stars — including Roy Acuff and Chet Atkins, who called Union County home.

UNION COUNTY, Tenn. — Filmmaker Ken Burns' new country music documentary started airing this weekend — and in the Cradle of Country Music, it's causing a stir.

Union County is a little county with a big history. Country music stars Chet Atkins, Roy Acuff, Carl Smith, Lois Johnson, and Kenny Chesney each called the East Tennessean county their home. 

Those stars shine in Burns' "Country Music," a 16-hour, 8-part series about the musicians who built the genre — including East Tennessean legends Dolly Parton, Roy Acuff and Chet Atkins.

Though the series just started airing on Sunday night, Union County's Roy Acuff Museum has already seen new interest in the area's musical heritage. 

Union County Historical Society President Martha Carter said the community is proud of its contributions to country music. 

"It's a small county to have as many Grand Ole Opry members as we have had," Carter said. 

As of 2017, Union County was home to just under 20,000 people. Out of the 95 counties in Tennessee, it's ranked 67th in population.

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To Carter, historical information sources like the museum play an important role in everyday life.

"I don't think that the county — the people and the public — would be who they are and really understand the life of people if it wasn't preserved and kept," Carter said.

The museum exhibits hundreds of books, newspaper clippings, awards, and other memorabilia — including a rare Roy Acuff fiddle. 

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Credit: WBIR

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Only one of "Country Music's" eight episodes has aired, but reviews are in. 

Rolling Stone called it "both a history lesson of an American art form and 20th century U.S.A. itself" for its focus on the genre's origins — a fusion of English, Irish, and Scottish ballads sung in Appalachia and instruments brought over by both European immigrants and African slaves. 

The first four parts of the series air from Sunday, Sept. 15 to Wednesday, Sept. 18. The second half of the series will air from Sept. 22 to Sept. 25. 

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