The BEST episodes of American Masters
Every episode of American Masters ever, ranked from best to worst by thousands of votes from fans of the show. The best episodes of American Masters!
To honor America's most notable creative artists and the inspiration behind their work. Special broadcasts profiles a cross-section of the nation's finest artistic pioneers from the past and present.
#1 - Jeff Bridges: The Dude Abides
Season 25 - Episode 1 - Aired 1/12/2011
A retrospective on the laid-back actor who has entertained audiences for close to 40 years.
#2 - Sam Cooke: Crossing Over
Season 24 - Episode 1 - Aired 1/11/2010
Sam Cooke put the spirit of the black church into popular music, creating a new American sound and setting into motion a chain of events that forever altered the course of popular music and race relations in America.
#3 - Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth
Season 28 - Episode 3 - Aired 2/7/2014
Writer and activist Alice Walker (b. Feb. 9, 1944) made history as the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her seminal novel The Color Purple (1982), for which she won the National Book Award. American Masters presents Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth, premiering nationally Friday, February 7 at 9 p.m. on PBS in honor of Walker’s 70th birthday and Black History Month. Filmmaker Pratibha Parmar’s new documentary tells Walker’s dramatic life story with poetry and lyricism, and features new interviews with Walker, Steven Spielberg, Danny Glover, Quincy Jones, Gloria Steinem, Sapphire and the late Howard Zinn in one of his final interviews. American Masters — Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth charts Walker’s inspiring journey from her birth into a family of sharecroppers in Eatonton, Georgia, to the present. The film explores Walker’s relationship with her mother, poverty, and participation in the Civil Rights Movement, which were the formative influences on her consciousness and became the inherent themes in her writing. Living through the violent racism and seismic social changes of mid-20th century America, Walker overcame adversity to achieve international recognition as one of the most influential — and controversial — writers of the 20th century.
#4 - The Day Carl Sandburg Died
Season 26 - Episode 6 - Aired 9/24/2012
For much of the 20th century, Sandburg was synonymous with the American experience, a spokesman on behalf of the people. One of the most successful writers in the English language, Sandburg was a three-time Pulitzer Prize-winner for his poetry as well as part of his six-volume Lincoln biography. Yet, after his death, Sandburg’s literary legacy faded and his poems, once taught in schools across America, were dismissed under the weight of massive critical attack.
#5 - Alice Waters and her Delicious Revolution
Season 17 - Episode 4 - Aired 3/19/2003
Follow Alice Waters (b. April 28, 1944) through a year of seasonal shopping and cooking, and discover both the recipes and vision of an artist and an advocate. She and her now-famous restaurant Chez Panisse became a major force behind the way Americans eat and think about food, launching the explosion of local farmers' markets and redesigned supermarket produce departments. Distressed by the food she saw in public schools, Waters started an organic garden with an integrated curriculum at the Martin Luther King Middle School near her house, an idea inspired by The Garden Project at the San Francisco county jail. The idea of an Edible Schoolyard has now spread across the US - and inspired similar programs worldwide. She is an activist with a flawless palette who has taken her gift for food and turned it into consciousness about the environment and nutrition, and a device for social change.Watch Now:Amazon
#7 - Judy Garland: By Myself
Season 18 - Episode 5 - Aired 2/25/2004
A detailed examination of the celebrated vocalist's career, from her amazing successes to her self-doubts and personal problems.
#9 - American Ballet Theatre: A History
Season 29 - Episode 4 - Aired 5/15/2015
Delving into the rich history of one of the world’s preeminent ballet companies, Ric Burns combines intimate rehearsal footage, virtuoso performances and interviews with American Ballet Theatre’s key figures.
#10 - Woody Allen: A Documentary (2)
Season 25 - Episode 8 - Aired 11/21/2011
Iconic writer, director, actor, comedian, and musician Woody Allen allowed his life and creative process to be documented on-camera for the first time. With this unprecedented access, Emmy®-winning, Oscar®-nominated filmmaker Robert Weide followed the notoriously private film legend over a year and a half to create the ultimate film biography.
#11 - Rod Serling: Submitted for Your Approval
Season 10 - Episode 1 - Aired 11/29/1995
A documentary on the man who pioneered the use of early television for dramatic storytelling.
#12 - Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool
Season 34 - Episode 1 - Aired 2/25/2020
Discover the man behind the legend. With full access to the Miles Davis Estate, the film features never-before-seen footage, including studio outtakes from his recording sessions, rare photos and new interviews. American Masters Presents Stanley Nelson’s Grammy-nominated Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool
#14 - Carol Burnett: A Woman of Character
Season 21 - Episode 9 - Aired 11/5/2007
The career of funny woman Carol Burnett, from Broadway to television stardom.
#15 - B.B. King: The Life of Riley
Season 30 - Episode 2 - Aired 2/12/2016
The challenging life and career of blues guitarist B.B. King; candid interviews feature Bono, Bonnie Raitt, Carlos Santana, Eric Clapton, John Mayer, and Ringo Starr.
#16 - Harper Lee
Season 29 - Episode 5 - Aired 7/10/2015
One of the biggest American bestsellers of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) was thought to be the first and only novel by Harper Lee. However, on July 14, 2015, Go Set a Watchman was released, featuring characters from Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Newly updated version of Mary McDonagh Murphy’s 2012 documentary, Harper Lee: Hey, Boo.Watch Now:Amazon
#17 - Fats Domino and The Birth of Rock 'n' Roll
Season 30 - Episode 4 - Aired 2/26/2016
#18 - Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny
Season 31 - Episode 6 - Aired 9/1/2017
A trove of never-before-seen archival footage provides an unconventional look at the fiercely independent style of filmmaking that emerged out of Austin, Texas in the late 1980s and 1990s with Linklater as its poster boy.
#19 - Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart
Season 32 - Episode 1 - Aired 1/19/2018
Explore the inner life and works of the activist, playwright and author of “A Raisin in the Sun,” Lorraine Hansberry. Narrated by actress LaTanya Richardson Jackson and featuring the voice of Tony Award-winning actress Anika Noni Rose as Hansberry.
#20 - Raúl Juliá: The World’s a Stage
Season 33 - Episode 10 - Aired 9/13/2019
From award-winning director Ben DeJesus (Great Performances: John Leguizamo’s Road to Broadway, John Leguizamo: Tales from a Ghetto Klown), Raúl Juliá: The World’s a Stage is a warm and revealing portrait of the charismatic, groundbreaking actor’s journey from his native Puerto Rico to the creative hotbed of 1960s New York City, to prominence on Broadway and in Hollywood. Filled with passion, determination and joy, Juliá’s brilliant and daring career was tragically cut short by his untimely death 25 years ago, at age 54.
#21 - Becoming Helen Keller
Season 35 - Episode 10 - Aired 10/19/2021
Revisit the complex life and legacy of the author, advocate and human rights pioneer. Helen Keller, who was deaf and blind, used her celebrity and wit to champion rights for women, people with disabilities and people living in poverty.
#22 - Marvin Hamlisch: What He Did For Love
Season 28 - Episode 1 - Aired 12/27/2013
Composer, conductor, genius, mensch: Marvin Hamlisch (June 2, 1944 – Aug. 6, 2012) earned four Grammys, four Emmys, three Oscars, three Golden Globes, a Tony Award and a Pulitzer Prize before his untimely death, making him one of only two PEGOT winners ever. Hit after hit — “The Way We Were,” “Nobody Does It Better” and scores for The Sting, Sophie’s Choice and the Broadway juggernaut A Chorus Line — made him the go-to composer and performer for film, Broadway, every U.S. President since Reagan and concert halls worldwide. With exclusive access to Hamlisch’s personal archival treasure trove and complete cooperation from his family, Dramatic Forces and THIRTEEN’s American Masters explore his prolific life and career in the series’ Season 27 finale, Marvin Hamlisch: What He Did For Love, premiering nationally Friday, December 27, 2013, 9 -10:30 p.m. ET on PBS
#23 - Margaret Mitchell: American Rebel
Season 26 - Episode 3 - Aired 4/2/2012
Margaret Mitchell: American Rebel engages leading historians, biographers and personal friends to reveal a complex woman who experienced profound identity shifts during her life and struggled with the two great issues of her day: the changing role of women and the liberation of African Americans.
#24 - Bob Dylan: No Direction Home
Season 19 - Episode 7 - Aired 9/27/2005
A journey through the poetry and music of Bob Dylan.
#25 - Sweet Honey in the Rock: Raise Your Voice
Season 19 - Episode 2 - Aired 6/29/2005
A profile of the musical group of African-American women who uniquely blend many cultural and historical themes in their work.