“Songbirds: A Documentary,” the Emmy Award-winning documentary that tells the story of the world’s most extensive collection of vintage guitars, will be screened at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 20 in the UTC Fine Arts Center’s Roland Hayes Concert Hall. Admission is free and all are invited.
The legendary guitar was built specifically for Jimi Hendrix, but he died before it was finished.
Designed by guitar maker Fender, it was a Stratocaster version of the Telecaster George Harrison played on “Abbey Road” and during the famous “Rooftop Concert” in 1969, the last time the Beatles played live.
By a circuitous route over the last 50 years, the Stratocaster ended up in the Songbirds Guitar Museum in Chattanooga. The instrument had achieved near-godlike status and was a reverent opportunity for internationally known guitarist Eric Johnson when he played it in Songbirds.
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga alum Dagan Beckett captured the moment on film.
“To hear that story and to see that guitar in person just made the hair on the back of my neck stand up,” said Beckett, who received a bachelor’s degree in music from UTC in 2012.
Songbirds officially closed in 2020—although it’s reopening as a concert venue—but
Beckett was able to get inside for his film “Songbirds: A Documentary” before the museum shut down. The film recently won an Emmy in the Topical Documentary category from the Nashville/Midsouth chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
The film also has been shown or won awards at film festivals in New York, Boston, Cannes in France, and Glasgow in Scotland.
When open, the museum held about 550 guitars, including instruments played or owned by such luminaries as Allman Brothers guitarist Duane Allman, bass player John Entwistle of the Who, blues guitarist B.B. King, the Beach Boys’ Carl Wilson and pioneering female guitarist Mary Kaye, a member of the Wrecking Crew—a famed set of studio musicians in Los Angeles.
“It’s the greatest collection I’ve ever seen, and I’m just happy to see it in my lifetime,” guitarist Joe Bonamassa says in the documentary.
“Songbirds: A Documentary” also features such guitarists as flying-fingered John 5, country star Vince Gill (now playing in the Eagles), country/bluegrass musician Marty Stuart and renowned acoustic player and Christian artist Doyle Dykes, who was born in Cleveland, Tennessee.
“What I’ve been really astounded by is the quality of the pieces they’ve collected,” Gill says in the documentary
“The guitars themselves are great, but I think the stories that come along with the guitars is what really is the value of the guitars,” Beckett said. “It makes you appreciate the guitars, the journey that those instruments have been on from the time that they were made.”
As might be expected, Beckett is also a musician, playing and touring in local bands such as Saturated Phat and CWB, both of which recorded albums and performed at Riverbend.
“When I got tired of doing that—it wasn’t really the lifestyle I wanted—I got a full-time job as music director at Burks United Methodist Church,” he said.
Before graduating from UTC, Beckett bounced around higher education for several years.
After graduating from Chattanooga Central High School in 1998, he enrolled as a sacred music major at Tennessee Wesleyan University for a year.
That didn’t hold, though, and he came to UTC in 2000 as a music major, playing in the Marching Mocs and the UTC Jazz Band. He left in 2004 to pursue a professional career in music.
While working at Burks Methodist, he took general education classes at Chattanooga State Community College, then came back to UTC in 2010.
Beckett is now working on a documentary titled “Beautiful Faces” about Larry Sargent, an acclaimed craniofacial surgeon who lives in Chattanooga and has treated patients around the world.
“There are all these kids in our world that have these craniofacial deformities,” Beckett said. “They’re either born with these syndromes or they’re traumatic injuries.
“One little girl he treated was kicked in the face by a horse. He was able to use world-class techniques that he’s developed to fix her face. She looks beautiful.”
Beckett said he hopes to release the film sometime in 2023. More than just the plastic surgery aspect of Sargent’s work, though, Beckett said he wants to address its mental health aspect.
“You see these patients and you see what he does for these children who have these deformities, but nobody really talks about the caretakers and the parents and what they have to go through,” he said. “The guilt they go through thinking that it was their fault that their kid was born this way, even though it wasn’t their fault.
“We’re really focusing on the surgeon’s journey and how he’s able to provide that hope for these families, for the children and for the parents, for the caretakers.”