10 American Folk Music Artists You Need to Know

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


American folk music is some of the richest and most varied in the world. Here are ten artists you need to know.

Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie was an American singer-songwriter and folk musician who was a prominent figure in the American folk music revival of the 1940s and 1950s. His songs, many of which were based on his own life experiences, such as “Hard Travelin'” and “This Land Is Your Land,” spoke to the everyday struggles of common people. Guthrie’s musical style was highly influential on future generations of folk musicians, including Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.

Lead Belly

Lead Belly was one of the most important American folk music artists of the 20th century. His repertoire encompassed a wide range of styles, including blues, gospel, folk, and work songs. He was a skilled musician and singer, and his recordings had a significant impact on the development of American folk music.

The Weavers

The Weavers were an American folk music quartet, originally formed in the late 1940s in Greenwich Village. The group is credited with helping to popularize folk music in the United States and were blacklisted during the McCarthy era for their progressive politics. The original members of the group were Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, Ronnie Gilbert, and Fred Hellerman.

Burl Ives

Burl Ives was an American singer-songwriter and actor known for his work on stage, screen and radio. He won an Oscar for his role in the 1956 film The Big Country and is also known for his roles in The Razor’s Edge (1946), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) and East of Eden (1955). A folk music revivalist, Ives recorded many traditional songs such as “Froggy Went A-Courtin'” and “The Blue Tail Fly”. He also wrote original songs such as “Holly parents” which were recorded by artists such as Pete Seeger, Odetta, Joan Baez and Harry Belafonte.

Josh White

Josh White was an African American singer, guitarist, songwriter, actor, and civil rights activist. He was one of the most prominent black artists of the 1940s and 1950s, drawing both from traditional folk music and blues. His songs were sometimes political, such as “Strange Fruit,” a protest against lynching. White also recorded love songs, children’s songs, and religious music.


Odetta was an American singer-songwriter, actress, guitarist, and a civil and human rights activist, often referred to as “The Voice of the Civil Rights Movement”. Her musical repertoire consisted mostly of American folk music, blues, jazz, and spirituals. An important figure in the American folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960s, she influenced other folk music artists such as Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mavis Staples, Emmylou Harris, and Janis Ian.

Joan Baez

Joan Baez is a legendary figure in the history of folk music. A singer, songwriter, and activist, Baez has been making music for over 50 years. Her debut album, Joan Baez (1960), featured traditional folk songs and was an instant success. She went on to release a series of hugely successful albums in the 1960s and 1970s, including Diamonds & Rust (1975) and Blessed Are… (1977). In the 1980s and 1990s, Baez continued to record and perform, releasing such albums as Speaking of Dreams (1989) and Play Me Backwards (1992). She has also been involved in a number of social and political causes throughout her career, most notably the civil rights and anti-war movements.

Peter, Paul and Mary

Peter, Paul and Mary was an American folk music group formed in 1961, famous for mainstreaming the genre and for their political activism stemming from their beliefs. The group comprised of Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey and Mary Travers. They produced many hits throughout their career such as “Blowin’ in the Wind”, “Puff the Magic Dragon”, “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and “The Times They Are A-Changin'”. The group were role models of the 1960s counterculture and activists of causes such as civil rights and environmental protection. They were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.

The Kingston Trio

One of the most popular and influential American folk music groups of the late 1950s and early 1960s, The Kingston Trio was comprised of Bob Shane, Dave Guard, and Nick Reynolds. Hailing from California, the trio was inspired by The Weavers and Pete Seeger, among other artists, and their sound helped to revive interest in traditional folk music. They achieved commercial success with recordings of “Tom Dooley” and “The Tijuana Jail,” as well as with their live album At Large. The Kingston Trio was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998.

Simon and Garfunkel

Simon and Garfunkel are an American folk music duo consisting of singer-songwriter Paul Simon and singer Art Garfunkel. They achieved commercial and critical success in the 1960s and 1970s, with their albums Sounds of Silence, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, Bookends, and Bridge over Troubled Water all achieving gold or platinum status. The duo were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

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