Ken Burns
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This year the Autry recognizes Ken Burns. IMAGE: Tim Llewellyn Photography

2016 Spirit of the West® Award Honoree

The Spirit of the West® Award recognizes individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to the art, culture, and legacy of our American West. This year the Autry recognizes Ken Burns.

Ken Burns

Ken Burns has been making documentary films for almost 40 years. Since the Academy Award®-nominated Brooklyn Bridge in 1981, Ken has gone on to direct and produce some of the most acclaimed historical documentaries ever made, including The Civil War; Baseball; Jazz, Statue of Liberty; Huey Long; Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery; Frank Lloyd Wright; Mark Twain; Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson; The War; The National Parks: America’s Best Idea; The Roosevelts: An Intimate History; Jackie Robinson and, most recently, Defying the Nazis: The Sharps' War.

A December 2002 poll conducted by Real Screen Magazine listed The Civil War as second only to Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North as the “most influential documentary of all time,” and named Ken Burns and Robert Flaherty the “most influential documentary makers” of all time. In March 2009, David Zurawik of The Baltimore Sun said, “… Burns is not only the greatest documentarian of the day, but also the most influential filmmaker period. That includes feature filmmakers like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. I say that because Burns not only turned millions of persons onto history with his films, he showed us a new way of looking at our collective past and ourselves.” The late historian Stephen Ambrose said of his films, "More Americans get their history from Ken Burns than any other source."

Future projects include films on the Vietnam War, the history of country music, Ernest Hemingway, and the history of stand-up comedy.

Ken’s films have been honored with dozens of major awards, including fifteen Emmy Awards, two GRAMMY Awards and two Academy Award nominations. In September 2008, at the News & Documentary Emmy Awards, Ken was honored by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences with a Lifetime Achievement Award.