In December 2000, the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? and its accompanying soundtrack put bluegrass and traditional country music in the pop culture spotlight. The Coen Brothers satirical comedy-drama about three Great Depression-era chain gang escapees, loosely based on Homer’s Odyssey, prominently features the music of Alison Krauss, Ralph Stanley and many others, and both the film and its soundtrack were massive successes.
Throughout O Brother, Where Art Thou?, music plays a key role: Escaped convicts Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney), Pete (John Turtorro) and Delmar O’Donnell (Tim Blake Nelson), along with blues musician Tommy Johnson (Chris Thomas King), record a song called “Man of Constant Sorrow” that becomes a hit. In the film and on the soundtrack, they’re billed as the Soggy Bottom Boys, but their voices are those of Alison Krauss and Union Station member Dan Tyminski, Nashville Bluegrass Band member Pat Enright and Music City songwriter Harley Allen.
The song was a hit in the real world too: “Man of Constant Sorrow” charted in the Top 40 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, and earned three major awards: Best Country Collaboration With Vocals at the Grammys, Song of the Year at the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards and Single of the Year at the CMA Awards. It’s been certified platinum, too — but that’s nothing compared to the soundtrack’s success as a whole.
Produced by T-Bone Burnett, the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack was a smash, eventually racking up platinum certification a whopping eight times. It earned four major Album of the Year honors and, in 2011, an expanded 10th anniversary release; its Ralph Stanley cut, “O Death,” also received Best Male Country Vocal Performance at the Grammy Awards, and Krauss and Gillian Welch’s version of “I’ll Fly Away” won Gospel Recorded Performance of the Year at the IBMA Awards.
Today, O Brother, Where Art Thou? is remembered not just for its stellar songs, but for introducing a new generation of fans to the genre. Read on to learn more about the smash hit soundtrack: