American Folk Music Has Its Roots in Many Traditions

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Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


American folk music has its roots in many traditions, including the music of British and Irish immigrants, African Americans, and Native Americans.


American folk music is a musical tradition that includes a wide variety of genres, styles and influences. The roots of American folk music are in the songs and traditions of the British Isles, Africa and the Americas. Over time, these traditions have been blended to create a unique American sound.

Folk music has always been an important part of American culture. In the 18th and 19th centuries, folk tunes were often used as the basis for popular songs. In the 20th century, folk music was used by social movements to spread their message and rally people to their cause. Today, many people enjoy listening to folk music for its simple beauty and honest expression of emotions.

The Various Roots of American Folk Music

American folk music has its roots in many traditions, including English and Scottish ballads, African American spirituals, and work songs. The various roots of American folk music are reflected in the various styles of folk music that exist today.

Celtic Music

Celtic music is a genre of folk music that emerged in the United States during the colonial period. It is characterized by its use of traditional Celtic instruments, such as the fiddle, bagpipe, and tin whistle, and its incorporation of elements from Scottish, Irish, and English folk music. Celtic music has also been influenced by American jazz and blues.

English Music

Folk music in England has been developed since at least the days of the minstrels in the Middle Ages. The first known use of the word “folk” for English peasants was in the fourteenth century. In the sixteenth century, William Shakespeare used “foul” to describe a peasant girl in his play “As You Like It”.

The term “folksong” was first used in print by William Tyndale in 1526 when he was translating the New Testament from Greek to English. He cited a verse from Luke which includes the word “oxen”: “And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7) His translation of this verse included the phrase “poor folk sings”.

The term “folk music” began to be used more frequently in print by the early nineteenth century. Musically, English folk music is often Dance tunes were originally played on instruments such as fiddles and bagpipes, or by playing along with recordings on the radio or 78 rpm records.

African-American Music

African-American music is a broad category that includes many different styles of music. These styles were created by African Americans who were brought to the Americas as slaves in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Some of the most popular genres of African-American music include blues, jazz, gospel, and hip hop.

African-American music has influecnced many other genres of music, including rock and roll, country, and pop. Many of the most popular musicians in these genres have been influenced by African-American music. For example, Elvis Presley was heavily influenced by blues and gospel music.

Native American Music

Probably the most significant single influence that Native Americans have had on American music is in the area of rhythm. In almost all Native American music there is a strong sense of rhythm created by the use of drums or rattles, or by stomping feet. This percussion-based style of music was adopted by many West African cultures, and would eventually be passed on to European and American slave traders, who would in turn bring it to the Americas. One of the most obvious examples of this can be found in jazz, where the syncopated rhythms found in songs like “The Saints Go Marching In” can be directly traced back to West African music. Other examples include the Latin rhythms found in much of American popular music, as well as the polka and waltz, both of which have their origins in Eastern Europe.

The Development of American Folk Music

Folk music in the United States can be traced back to the 18th century when settlers from Britain, Ireland, and other parts of Europe brought their musical traditions with them. American folk music is also significantly influenced by the music of African Americans and Native Americans. In the 19th and 20th centuries, American folk music was further influenced by the music of Immigrants from Eastern Europe and Asia.

The Rise of Folk Music in the 20th Century

In the early part of the 20th century, American Folk music was shaped by a number of factors. One was the rise of the recording industry and the popularity of commercial recordings of folk songs by artists such as Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. Another was the rise of the folk arts movement, which led to an increase in public interest in traditional music and dance. The final factor was the impact of the Great Depression and World War II, which led to a renewed interest in American Folk music as a way to express the nation’s experience.

The Folk Revival of the 1950s and 1960s

In the 1950s and 1960s, there was a renewed interest in the music of America’s past, particularly the music of the folk tradition. This “folk revival” brought new attention to such artists as Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Lead Belly, who had been largely forgotten since the 1940s. The folk revival also helped to launch the careers of a number of new artists, including Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.


In conclusion, American folk music has its roots in many traditions, including the music of European settlers, African slaves, and Native Americans. This diversity is one of the things that makes America’s musical heritage so rich and interesting.

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