‘American Anthems’ sets real heroes’ stories to music

PBS series makes Jennifer Nettles the first artist up

Jennifer Nettles is featured on “American Anthems,” premiering Friday on PBS (check local listings).

Jennifer Nettles knows a lot about being inspired to create songs, but she found different sources in working on a new series.

Both a solo star and half of the country duo Sugarland, the award-winning singing powerhouse is among the country artists involved in PBS’ “American Anthems,” premiering Friday, June 24 (check local listings). Her episode is the first of six in which a country star meets a prominent member of a community, then helps develop a song — in Nettles’ case, along with co-writer Bill Sherman, honoring a cancer patient who developed a support network for others like the one that formed to back him — and debuts the resulting tune.

“I always serve the art,” Nettles reflects, “and for this show specifically, it still fits in line. As a songwriter, as an actress, as a music writer, whatever it may be, I am always a storyteller. This, for me, melds a couple of my favorite different worlds. I am always writing a song, crafting a character, crafting a story.

“The stories are here already, in the lives of these people,” adds Nettles. “We read things as producers or writers, and we might look for (material) that is already out there. These stories are already inherently these people’s. They are their own, so for me, this is just an extension of storytelling that I’m able to marry songwriting within television … which is so beautiful.”

Lee Brice, The War and Treaty, Lindsay Ell, Cam and Ruston Kelly are the music stars featured in later “American Anthems” editions. “One of the things that I think is so incredible,” executive producer Dan Goodman says, “is that we came across so many people who had such creative ways of giving back and contributing to their communities, things that we never expected. We met with scores of people and found so many great stories.

“One of the things that was really important for us for this series,” Goodman notes, “was not just finding great heroes, but finding people who were, first and foremost, willing to talk about the personal experience that they had. We didn’t want to do things that were holding up big corporate groups that were doing philanthropy. These are really very personal stories that we wanted (viewers) to experience and be a part of firsthand.”

A winner of three Grammy Awards and many country honors, Nettles says of her “American Anthems” duty, “I remember having those emotional moments of, ‘This is such a powerful story, and thank you for sharing it with me and for trusting me to try to write the most intimate parts of your life.’ I like to believe that they then can change along with me.”

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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