Folk music
Béla Bartók recording Slovak peasant singers in 1908
Traditions List of folk music traditions
Musicians List of folk musicians
Instruments Folk instruments

Folk music is an English term encompassing both traditional and contemporary folk music. The term originated in the 19th century as a description of the former. Traditional folk music has been defined in several ways: as music transmitted by mouth, as music of the lower classes, and as music with unknown composers. It has been contrasted with commercial and classical styles. It has become increasingly common to refer to this type of music as "traditional music". Articles on the subject can be found at Folk song and at Traditional music.

Starting in the mid-20th century a new form of popular folk music evolved from traditional music. This process and period is called the folk revival and reached a peak in the 1960s. The most common name for this new form of music is also "folk music", but is often called "folk revival music" or "contemporary folk music" to make the distinction.[1] This type of folk music also includes fusion genres such as folk rock, electric folk, and others. While contemporary folk music is a genre generally distinct from traditional music, it often shares the same English name, performers and venues as traditional music; even individual songs may be a blend of the two.


Definitions of "contemporary folk music" are generally vague and variable. Here it is taken to mean all music that is called folk which is not traditional music; a set of genres which began with and then evolved from the folk revival of the mid 20th century. According to Hugh Blumenfeld, for the American folk scene, in general it is:

  • "Anglo-American, embracing acoustic and/or tradition-based music from the U.K. and the United States.
  • Musically, it is mainly Western European in its origins; linguistically, it is predominantly English-based.
  • The few exceptions to the above are based mainly on prevailing political/historical conditions in the Anglo-American world and the demographics of folk fans: Celtic music, blues, some Central and South American music, Native American music, and Klezmer."[2]

With "folk music" being an particularly English term, this definition may have general relevance. Contemporary country music descends ultimately from a rural American folk tradition, but has evolved differently. Bluegrass music is a professional development of American old time music, intermixed with blues and jazz.

History Edit

Folk revival of the mid 20th century in Britain and AmericaEdit

File:Woody Guthrie 2.jpg
File:Pete Seeger2 - 6-16-07 Photo by Anthony Pepitone.jpg

While the Romantic nationalism of the folk revival had its greatest influence on art-music, the "second folk revival" of the later 20th century brought a new genre of popular music with artists marketed by amplified concerts, recordings and broadcasting. This is the genre that remains as folk music even when traditional music is considered to be a separate genre. One of the earliest figures in this revival was Woody Guthrie.[3] The American Woody Guthrie collected folk music in the 1930s and 1940s and also composed his own songs, as did Pete Seeger. In the 1930s Jimmie Rodgers, in the 1940s Burl Ives in the early 1950s Seeger's group The Weavers and Harry Belafonte and in the late 1950s The Kingston Trio, and The Limeliters found a popularity that culminated in the Hootenanny television series[4] and the associated magazine ABC-TV Hootenanny in 1963–1964. Starting in 1950 Sing Out! magazine helped spread both traditional and composed songs, as did folk-revival-oriented record companies.

In the United Kingdom, the folk revival fostered young artists like The Watersons, Martin Carthy and Roy Bailey and a generation of singer-songwriters such as Bert Jansch, Ralph McTell, Donovan and Roy Harper; all seven entered the public eye in the 1960s. Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Tom Paxton visited Britain for some time in the early 1960s, the first two, particularly, making later use of the traditional English material they heard.

In 1950 Alan Lomax came to Britain and met A.L.'Bert' Lloyd and Ewan MacColl, a meeting credited as inaugurating the second British folk revival. In London the colleagues opened The Ballads and Blues Club, eventually renamed the Singers' Club, possibly the first folk club; it closed in 1991. As the 1950s progressed into the 1960s, the folk revival movement built up in both Britain and America. Odetta was an important figure in the American folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960s.

The mid and late 1960s saw fusion forms of folk (such as folk rock) achieve prominence never before seen by folk music, but the early 1960s were perhaps the zenith of non-fusion folk music prominence in the music scene.

Major performers that emerged from 1940s- early 1960sEdit

Here are some folk music performers who emerged during 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s.

  • Woody Guthrie (1912 –1967) is best known as an American singer-songwriter and folk musician, whose musical legacy includes hundreds of political, traditional and children's songs, ballads and improvised works. He frequently performed with the slogan This Machine Kills Fascists displayed on his guitar. His best-known song is "This Land Is Your Land". Many of his recorded songs are archived in the Library of Congress.[5] Such songwriters as Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Bruce Springsteen, Pete Seeger, Joe Strummer and Tom Paxton have acknowledged their debt to Guthrie as an influence. Guthrie traveled with migrant workers from Oklahoma to California and learned traditional folk and blues songs. Many of his songs are about his experiences in the Dust Bowl era during the Great Depression, earning him the nickname the "Dust Bowl Troubadour".[6] Throughout his life Guthrie was associated with United States communist groups, though he was allegedly not a member of any.[7] Guthrie fathered American folk musician Arlo Guthrie. During his later years Guthrie served as a figurehead in the folk movement, providing inspiration to a generation of new folk musicians, including mentor relationships with Ramblin' Jack Elliott and Bob Dylan.
  • The Almanac Singers Almanac members Millard Lampell, Lee Hays, Pete Seeger, and Woody Guthrie began playing together informally in 1940 or 1941. They invented a driving, energetic performing style, based on what they felt was the best of American country string band music, black and white. They evolved towards controversial topical music. To a certain extent they evolved into The Weavers.
  • Burl Ives - as a youth, Ives dropped out of college to travel around as an itinerant singer during the early 1930s, earning his way by doing odd jobs and playing his banjo. In 1930 he had a brief, local radio career on WBOW radio in Terre Haute, Indiana, and in the 1940s he had his own radio show, titled The Wayfaring Stranger, titled after one of the popular ballads he sang. The show was very popular, and in 1946 Ives was cast as a singing cowboy in the film Smoky. Ives went on to play parts in other popular films, as well. His first book, The Wayfaring Stranger, was published in 1948.
  • Pete Seeger had met, and been influenced, by many important folk musicians (and singer-songwriters with folk roots), such as Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly. Seeger had labor movement involvements, and he met Woody at a "Grapes of Wrath" migrant workers’ concert on March 3, 1940, and the two thereafter began a musical collaboration (which included the Almanac Singers). In 1948 Seeger wrote the first version of his now-classic How to Play the Five-String Banjo, an instructional book that many banjo players credit with starting them off on the instrument.
  • The Weavers were formed in 1947 by Seeger, Ronnie Gilbert, Lee Hays, and Fred Hellerman. After they debuted at the Village Vanguard in New York in 1948, they were then discovered by arranger Gordon Jenkins and signed with Decca Records, releasing a series of successful but heavily-orchestrated single songs. The group's political associations in the era of the Red Scare forced them to break up in 1952; they re-formed in 1955 with a series of successful concerts and album recordings on Vanguard Records. A fifth member, Erik Darling, sometimes sat in with the group when Seeger was unavailable and ultimately replaced Seeger in The Weavers when the latter resigned from the quartet in a dispute about its commercialism in general and its specific agreement to record a cigarette commercial.[8]
  • Harry Belafonte, another influential singer, started his career as a club singer in New York to pay for his acting classes. At first he was a pop singer, but later he developed a keen interest in folk music. In 1952 he signed a contract with RCA Victor. His breakthrough album Calypso (1956) was the first LP to sell over a million copies. The album spent 31 weeks at number one, 58 weeks in the top ten, and 99 weeks on the US charts. It introduced American audiences to Calypso music and Belafonte was dubbed the "King of Calypso." Belafonte went on to record in many genres, including blues, American folk, gospel, etc. In 1959 He starred in Tonight With Belafonte a nationally televised special, that introduced Odetta in her debut to a prime time audience and who sang Water Boy and who performed a duet with Belafonte of There's a Hole in My Bucket that hit the national charts in 1961.[9]
  • Odetta - As an example of the more obscure among the early notables, starting in 1953 singers Odetta and Larry Mohr recorded some songs, with the LP being released in 1954 as Odetta and Larry, an album that was partially recorded live at San Francisco's Tin Angel bar. For Odetta, it began a period of great respect and a sort of underground reputation associated with a repertoire of traditional songs (e.g., spirituals) and blues covers.
File:The Limelighters.jpg
  • The Limeliters are an American folk music group, formed in July 1959 by Lou Gottlieb (bass), Alex Hassilev (baritone), and Glenn Yarbrough (tenor).  The group was active from 1959 until 1965, when they disbanded.  After a hiatus of sixteen years Yarbrough, Hassilev, and Gottlieb reunited and began performing as The Limeliters again.  The Limeliters are still active and performing, but Hassilev, the last founding member active in the group, has retired, leaving the group to carry on without any of the original members.
  • Joan Baez’s career got started in 1958 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where at 17 she gave her first coffee-house concert. She was invited to perform at the 1959 Newport Folk Festival, after which Baez was sometimes called “the barefoot Madonna," gaining renown for her clear voice and three-octave range. She recorded her first album for a major label the following year – a collection of laments and traditional folk ballads from the British Isles, accompanying the songs with guitar. Her second LP release went gold, as did her next (live) albums. One record featured her rendition of a song by the then-unknown Bob Dylan. In the early 1960s, Baez moved into the forefront of the American folk-music revival. Increasingly, her personal convictions – peace, social justice, anti-poverty – were reflected in the topical songs that made up a growing portion of her repertoire, to the point that Baez became a symbol for these particular concerns.
  • Bob Dylan often performed, and sometimes toured, with Joan Baez, starting when she was a singer of mostly traditional songs. As Baez adopted some of Dylan's songs into her repertoire and even introduced Dylan to her avid audiences, a large following on the folk circuit, it helped the young songwriter to gain initial recognition. By the time Dylan recorded his first LP (1962) he had developed a style reminiscent of Woody Guthrie. He began to write songs that captured the "progressive" mood on the college campuses and in the coffee houses. Though by 1964 there were many new guitar-playing singer/songwriters, it is arguable that Dylan eventually became the most popular of these younger folk-music-revival performers.
  • Peter, Paul and Mary debuted in the early 1960s and were a American trio who ultimately became one of the biggest musical acts of the 1960s. The trio was composed of Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey and Mary Travers. They were one of the main folk music torchbearers of social commentary music in the 1960s. As the decade passed, the music incorporated more elements of pop and rock.

The mid 1960s through the early 1970s Edit

File:Joan Baez Bob Dylan.jpg

The large musical, political, lifestyle, and counterculture changes most associated with "the 60s" occurred during the second half of the 1960s and the first year or two of the 1970s Folk music underwent a related rapid evolution and expansion at that same time. Large changes occurred through the evolution of established performers such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, The Seekers and Peter Paul and Mary, and also through the creation of new fusion genres with rock and pop. Dylan's use of electric instruments helped inaugurate the genres of folk rock and country rock, particularly by his album John Wesley Harding. The Seekers emerged in 1963 and blended traditional music, contemporary folk music and pop, an illustration of the rapid evolution and diversification of folk music than began in the mid 1960s. These changes represented a further departure from traditional music. The Byrds with hits such as Seeger's Turn, Turn, Turn were emblematic of a new term folk rock. Other performers such as Simon & Garfunkel and The Mamas & the Papas created new hard-to-classify music that is folk inspired or styled. Folk singers and songwriters such as Phil Ochs, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Arlo Guthrie and Tom Paxton followed in Woody Guthrie's footsteps, writing "protest music" and topical songs and expressing support for various causes including the American Civil Rights Movement and anti-war causes associated with the Vietnam War. The Canadian performers Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Cockburn and Joni Mitchell represented such fusions and were all invested with the Order of Canada. Many of the acid rock bands of San Francisco began by playing acoustic folk and blues. The Smothers Brothers television shows featured many folk performers, including formerly blacklisted ones such as Pete Seeger and Harry Belafonte.[10]

The late 1960s saw the advent of electric folk groups. This is a form of folk rock, with a focus on indigenous (European, and, emblematically, English) songs. A key electric folk moment was the release of Fairport Convention's album Liege and Lief. Guitarist Richard Thompson declared that the music of the band demanded a corresponding "English Electric" style, while bassist Ashley Hutchings formed Steeleye Span in order to pursue a more traditional repertoire performed in the electric folk style. Exponents of electric folk music such as Fairport Convention, Pentangle, Alan Stivell, Mr. Fox and Steeleye Span saw electrification of traditional musical forms as a means to reach a far wider audience.

Bonnie Koloc is an American folk music singer-songwriter, actress, and artist who was considered one of the three main Illinois-based folk singers in the 1970s, (recording debut in 1971) along with Steve Goodman and John Prine forming the "trinity of the Chicago folk scene.".

Mid 1970s through present dayEdit

Malicorne, a French electric folk group emerged in 1973, starting with traditional music and then later blended it with pop. Stan Roger's wrote and performed folk music with strong historical nautical themes, emerging in 1976.

In the 1980s artists like The Knitters propagated cowpunk or folk punk, which eventually evolved into alt country. More recently the same spirit has been embraced and expanded on by artists such as Dave Alvin, Miranda Stone and Steve Earle.

Starting in the 1970s it was fueled by new singer-songwriters such as Steve Goodman, John Prine who emerged in the early 1970s. The Pogues who emerged in the early 1980s and Ireland's The Corrs who emerged in the 1990s brought traditional tunes back into the album charts. Carrie Newcomer emerged with Stone Soup in 1984 and individually in 1991.

In the second half of the 1990s, once more, folk music made an impact on the mainstream music via a younger generation of artists such as Eliza Carthy, Kate Rusby and Spiers and Boden. Hard rock and heavy metal bands such as Korpiklaani, Skyclad, Waylander and Finntroll meld elements from a wide variety of traditions, including in many cases instruments such as fiddles, tin whistles, accordions and bagpipes. Folk metal often favours pagan-inspired themes. Viking metal is defined in its folk stance, incorporating folk interludes into albums (e.g., Bergtatt and Kveldssanger, the first two albums by once-folk metal, now-experimental band Ulver).

Specialty sub-genresEdit

Filk music can be considered folk music stylistically and culturally (though the 'community' it arose from, science fiction fandom, is an unusual and thoroughly modern one).[11] Neofolk began in the 1980s, fusing traditional European folk music with post-industrial music, historical topics, philosophical commentary, traditional songs and paganism. The genre is largely European.

Anti folk began in New York City in the 1980s. Folk punk, known in its early days as rogue folk, is a fusion of folk music and punk rock. It was pioneered by the London-based Irish band The Pogues in the 1980s. Radical folk of the present claims to tackle age old political issues such as workers rights and capital punishment. Industrial folk music is a characterization of folk music normally referred to under other genres, and covers music of or about industrial environments and topics, including related protest music.

Other sub-genres include Indie folk, Techno-folk, Freak folk and Americana and fusion genres such as folk metal, progressive folk, psychedelic folk, and neofolk.

Notable venuesEdit

It is sometimes claimed that the earliest folk festival was the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, 1928, in Asheville, North Carolina, founded by Bascom Lamar Lunsford. Sidmouth Festival began in 1954, and Cambridge Folk Festival began in 1965. The Cambridge Folk Festival in Cambridge, England is noted for having a very wide definition of who can be invited as folk musicians. The "club tents" allow attendees to discover large numbers of unknown artists, who, for ten or 15 minutes each, present their work to the festival audience.

Stan Rogers is a lasting fixture of the Canadian folk festival Summerfolk, held annually in Owen Sound, Ontario, where the main stage and amphitheater are dedicated as the "Stan Rogers Memorial Canopy". The festival is firmly fixed in tradition, with Rogers` song The Mary Ellen Carter, being sung by all involved, including the audience and a medley of acts at the festival.

The Canmore Folk Festival is Alberta's longest running folk music festival. The Feast of the Hunters' Moon in Indiana draws approximately 70,000 visitor per year.

Folk music is popular among some audiences today, with folk music clubs meeting to share traditional-style songs, and there are major folk music festivals in many countries, e.g. the Woodford Folk Festival, National Folk Festival and Port Fairy Folk Festival are amongst Australia's largest major annual events, attracting top international folk performers as well as many local artists. This includes the music of Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Devendra Banhart and others.

See alsoEdit



Traditional musicEdit

  • Bayard, Samuel Preston (1950). "Prolegomena to a Study of the Principal Melodic Families of British-American Folksong", Journal of American Folklore pp. 1–44. Reprinted in McAllester, David Park (ed.) (1971) Readings in ethnomusicology New York: Johnson Reprint. Template:Oclc
  • Bearman, C. J. (2000). "Who Were the Folk? The Demography of Cecil Sharp's Somerset Folk Singers." The Historical Journal (September 2000) Vol. 43 No.3 pp. 751–75. Template:Jstor
  • Bevil, Jack Marshall (1984). Centonization and Concordance in the American Southern Uplands Folksong Melody: A Study of the Musical Generative and Transmittive Processes of an Oral Tradition. PhD Thesis, North Texas University, Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International. Template:Oclc
  • Bevil, Jack Marshall (1986). "Scale in Southern Appalachian Folksong: a Reexamination", College Music Symposium Vol. 26, 77-91. Template:Verify source
  • Bevil, Jack Marshall (1987). "A Paradigm of Folktune Preservation and Change Within the Oral Tradition of a Southern Appalachian Community, 1916-1986." Unpublished. Read at the 1987 National Convention of the American Musicological Society, New Orleans.
  • Bronson, Bertrand Harris. The Ballad As Song (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969).
  • Bronson, Bertrand Harris. The Singing Tradition of Child's Popular Ballads (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976).
  • Bronson, Bertrand Harris. The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads, with Their Texts, According to the Extant Records of Great Britain and North America, 4 volumes (Princeton and Berkeley: Princeton University and University of California Presses, 1959, ff.).
  • Cartwright, Garth (2005). Princes Amongst Men: Journeys with Gypsy Musicians. London: Serpent's Tail. ISBN 1852428775
  • Carson, Ciaran (1997). Last Night's Fun: In and Out of Time with Irish Music. North Point Press. ISBN 9780865475151
  • Cowdery, James R. (1990). The Melodic Tradition of Ireland. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press. ISBN 9780873384070
  • Farsani, Mohsen (2003) Lamentations chez les nomades bakhtiari d'Iran. Paris: Université Sorbonne Nouvelle.
  • Harker, David (1985). Fakesong: The Manufacture of British 'Folksong', 1700 to the Present Day. Milton Keynes [Buckinghamshire]; Philadelphia: Open University Press. ISBN 0335150667
  • Jackson, George Pullen (1933). White Spirituals in the Southern Uplands: The Story of the Fasola Folk, Their Songs, Singings, and "Buckwheat Notes". Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. Template:LCCN/core Template:Oclc Reprinted by Kessinger Publishing (2008) ISBN 9781436690447
  • Matthews, Scott (2008). "John Cohen in Eastern Kentucky: Documentary Expression and the Image of Roscoe Halcomb During the Folk Revival". Southern Spaces.  (August 6)Template:Page needed
  • Karpeles, Maud. An Introduction to English Folk Song. 1973. Oxford. Oxford University Press.
  • Keller, Marcello Sorce (1984). "The Problem of Classification in Folksong Research: A Short History", Folklore Vol. 95, no. 1:100–104. Template:JSTOR
  • Mills, Isabelle (1974). The Heart of the Folk Song, Canadian Journal for Traditional Music Vol. 2
  • Poladian, Sirvart. "Melodic Contour in Traditional Music," Journal of the International Folk Music Council III (1951), 30-34.
  • Poladian, Sirvart. "The Problem of Melodic Variation in Folksong," Journal of American Folklore (1942), 204-211.
  • Rooksby, Rikky, Dr Vic Gammon et al. The Folk Handbook. (2007). Backbeat
  • Sharp, Cecil. Folk Song: Some Conclusions. 1907. Charles River Books
  • Sharp, Cecil English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians. Collected by Cecil J. Sharp. Ed. Maud Karpeles. 1932. London. Oxford University Press.
  • Warren-Findley, Jannelle (1980). "Journal of a Field Representative : Charles Seeger and Margaret Valiant" Ethnomusicology, Vol. 24, No. 2 (May, 1980), pp. 169–210 Template:JSTOR

Contemporary folk musicEdit

Covering both traditional music and contemporary folk musicEdit

  • Pegg, Carole (2001). "Folk Music". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan.
  • van der Merwe, Peter (1989). Origins of the Popular Style: The Antecedents of Twentieth-Century Popular Music. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-316121-4.


  1. definition
  2. Definitions of folk music by Hugh Blumenfeld,
  3. Traditional songs - Folk song lyrics of the world
  4. Retrieved on 05-03-07
  5. Library of Congress. Related Material - Woody Guthrie Sound Recordings at the American Folklife Center. Retrieved on November 27, 2007.
  6. Alarik, Scott. Robert Burns unplugged. The Boston Globe, August 7, 2005. Retrieved on December 5, 2007.
  7. Spivey, Christine A. This Land is Your land, This Land is My Land: Folk Music, Communism, and the Red Scare as a Part of the American Landscape. The Student Historical Journal 1996–1997, Loyola University New Orleans, 1996.
  9. [1]
  10. Bianculli, David (2009). Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. New York: Touchstone (Simon & Schuster). pp. 130–134, 193–196. ISBN 9781439101162. 
  11. Hall of Fame acceptance speeches by Sally and Barry Childs-Helton

External linksEdit

Template:Folk music Template:Americanrootsmusic

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