O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack released - HISTORY

O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack released

Released on this day in 2000, several weeks ahead of the film itself, the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack would catch on slowly, but it would eventually sell upwards of 7 million copies while winning a broad new audience for contemporary artists performing a style of American music–bluegrass–that  had been absent from the pop charts for five decades or more. Of the hugely popular album widely credited with sparking a major resurgence of interest in her chosen musical genre, the bluegrass artist Rhonda Vincent said to the Los Angeles Times in 2002, “To me the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack is not bluegrass, but as long as people love the music, who cares what it’s called?”

Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, O Brother, Where Art Thou? was a loose adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey starring George Clooney as the fast-talking escaped convict Ulysses Everett McGill, who must survive encounters with sirens, a Cyclops and a posse of hooded Klansmen on an epic journey home to Ithaca (Mississippi) to prevent his wife, Penny, from marrying another man. Deciding early on to employ a soundtrack appropriate to the film’s setting in the Depression-era South, the Coen brothers enlisted songwriter-producer T-Bone Burnett to find the right music, and he found it in Nashville, though not within the country-music establishment. As the soundtrack’s liner notes put it, the sound that Burnett and the Coens were looking for was the sound of country music “before the infidels of [Nashville’s] Music Row expropriated that term to describe watered-down pop/rock with greeting-card lyrics.”

They found that sound alive and well and in the capable hands of musicians whose roots date back across decades—Ralph Stanley and The Fairfield Four, for instance—and others who had made their careers working in a country vernacular far older than themselves—Gillian Welch, Allison Kraus and Emmylou Harris, most prominent among them. Using these and other contemporary musicians, Burnett completed work on the soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou? before the first frame of the film was shot, and the Coens consciously built many memorable scenes around songs like Krauss’s rendition of “Down To The River To Pray” and “Man Of Constant Sorrow,” by the fictitious Soggy Bottom Boys (featuring the real-life Dan Tyminski and Ron Block).

Within several months of its release, the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack had topped the country album charts, but its crossover to the pop charts came much more slowly. By August 2001, the film had left theaters in the United States, but the album was still building momentum. It finally reached the #1 spot on the Billboard 200 chart of pop albums in March 2002—the longest climb to #1 for a pop album in the modern era.


Prohibition ends

The 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is ratified, repealing the 18th Amendment and bringing an end to the era of national prohibition of alcohol in America. At 5:32 p.m. EST, Utah became the 36th state to ratify the amendment, achieving the requisite three-fourths majority ...read more

Roone Arledge dies

On December 5, 2002, the legendary television producer and executive Roone Arledge dies in New York City, at the age of 71. Born in Forest Hills, Queens, Arledge won his first producing job from New York’s Channel 4, where he worked behind the scenes on a puppet show starring ...read more

Van Buren is born

On this day in 1782, Martin Van Buren, America’s 8th president, is born in Kinderhook, New York, to Dutch parents. He left grammar school with his sights set on studying law and pursuing a career in politics.Van Buren married one of his Dutch cousins, Hannah Hoes, in 1807. The ...read more

Rodeo star Bill Pickett born in Texas

On this day, the great steer wrestling rodeo star Bill Pickett is born near Austin, Texas.The son of black and Indian parents, Pickett learned his roping and riding skills working as a cowboy on a Texas ranch. He attracted the attention of the Miller brothers, who ran the 101 ...read more

Steinbeck’s Sea of Cortez is published

On this day, John Steinbeck’s nonfiction book The Sea of Cortez is published. The book reflects Steinbeck’s serious study of marine biology. He also uses his knowledge of the sea and its creatures in creating Doc, the marine biologist character in Cannery Row (1945).Steinbeck was ...read more

Eddie Murphy stars in Beverly Hills Cop

Eddie Murphy stars as the wisecracking Detective Axel Foley in the action-comedy Beverly Hills Cop, released in theaters on this day in 1984. The movie marked the first major starring role for Murphy, who went on to become one of the top-grossing actors in Hollywood.Murphy was ...read more

Hundreds die in Brooklyn theater fire

A fire at the Brooklyn Theater in New York kills nearly 300 people and injures hundreds more on this day in 1876. Some victims perished from a combination of burns and smoke inhalation; others were trampled to death in the general panic that ensued.The play The Two Orphans ...read more

George Custer born

On this day in 1839, Union General George Armstrong Custer is born in Harrison County, Ohio. Although he is best known for his demise at the hands of the Lakota and Cheyenne Indians at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, Montana,in 1876, Custer built a reputation as a dashing and ...read more