Folk Music, from Life in the USA: The Complete Guide for Immigrants and Americans

Life in the USA is a complete guide to American life for immigrants and Americans. All materials on this site Copyright © Elliot Essman 2014. All rights reserved.    Home    Back    Next

Life in the USA
American Culture
American Music

Folk Music
Folk music is the traditional music of many of the early settlers to the United States, particularly in the Appalachian region. Many of the best loved American folk tunes are either of blues/gospel derivation, or else have Scots/Irish roots. Folk music underwent a great revival in the 1960's, greatly influencing blues, rock and country music as we know them today.

In today’s language the term “folk music” refers to a popular variety of American music based on several folk heritages, and generally characterized by the use of acoustic rather than electric instruments, particularly guitars. Sub-genres like “folk-rock” often use electric instruments while paying tribute to the sounds and chord-progressions of their acoustic ancestors.

One of the first artists to become widely popular playing what can be termed folk music, in the 1930s and 1940s, was songwriter Woody Guthrie, whose music was later popularized by Rambling Jack Elliot. Musician Pete Seeger has also has a long career as a folk pioneer from the 1930s onward, commonly composing songs calling for political change. During the 1950s and 1960s Seeger’s group the Weavers reached the mainstream, along with other folk combos like The Kingston Trio, and the Limeliters, and individual artists like Burl Ives and Harry Belafonte. Singer songwriters achieving renown in the 1960s, who often sang songs of protest dealing with themes of civil rights and the Vietnam War, were Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, Joan Baez, and Woody Guthrie’s son Arlo Guthrie.

Today, folk is an established American popular genre, with strains of folk making their way into pop music, rock music, and even American television commercials. Singer-songwriters continue to use the folk style that gelled in the 1960s with Dylan and others to express sentiments of all kinds, from protest to lost love.


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