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Ken Burns Headshot

Ken Burns' Biography

Ken Burns has been making documentary films for more than 30 years. Since the Academy Award nominated Brooklyn Bridge in 1981, Burns has gone on to direct and produce some of the most acclaimed historical documentaries ever made. His landmark series The Civil War was the highest-rated series in the history of American Public Television and attracted an audience of 40 million during its premiere in September 1990. 

In addition to directing The Civil War, Burns also served as producer, co-writer, chief cinematographer, music director and executive producer. The film was honored with more than 40 major film and television awards. The New York Times called The Civil War a masterpiece, and Tom Shales of The Washington Post wrote, "This is not just good television, nor even just great television. This is heroic television." Columnist George Will said, "If better use has ever been made of television, I have not seen it and do not expect to see better until Ken Burns turns his prodigious talents to his next project." 

Ken Burns was the director, producer, co-writer, chief cinematographer, music director and executive producer of the Public Television seriesBaseball. Four and a half years in the making and 18 and a half hours in length, this film covers the history of baseball from the 1840s to the present. It became the most watched series in PBS history, attracting more than 45 million viewers.

In the fall of 2009, PBS broadcast the Emmy Award-winning The National Parks: America's Best Idea. Directed and co-produced by Burns, the six-part series focuses on the ideas and individuals that helped propel the parks into existence. Filmed over the course of more than six years at some of nature's most spectacular locales — from Acadia to Yosemite, Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon, the Everglades of Florida to the Gates of the Arctic in Alaska — the heart of the story is nonetheless a story of people from every conceivable background — rich and poor; famous and unknown; soldiers and scientists; natives and newcomers; idealists, artists and entrepreneurs; people who were willing to devote themselves to saving some precious portion of the land they loved and — in doing so, reminded their fellow citizens of the full meaning of democracy.

From jazz, the Shakers and the Statue of Liberty, to Huey Long, the Brooklyn Bridge, Congress and the first African-American heavyweight fighter — Burns' subjects cover a diverse yet uniquely American way of life.

His upcoming projects include a history of Prohibition, the Dust Bowl, the Roosevelts, the Vietnam War and the Central Park Jogger case.

In addition to being the spring Presidential Speaker, Burns will be the Keynote Speaker for the 2014 Symposium on Democracy.