Chicago School of Folk Music

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Looking for a place to learn about and enjoy folk music in Chicago? Look no further than the Chicago School of Folk Music! Here, you can take classes, participate in workshops, and enjoy performances by some of the best folk musicians in the city.


The Chicago school of folk music is a musical genre and movement that was started in the mid-20th century. The music is a blend of traditional folk music and blues with a focus on social and political issues. The school’s founders were Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie.

Origins in the late 19th century

The Chicago school of folk music was a product of the urbanization and industrialization of the United States in the late 19th century. The city of Chicago was growing rapidly and was attracting people from all over the country, as well as from Europe. This diversity of cultures and backgrounds led to a rich tapestry of musical styles and traditions.

TheChicago schoolof folk musicis generally considered to have begun in1883with the establishment of the first professional folk music society in the United States,the Chicago Musical Society. This society was founded by musicologist Francis JamesChild, who also compiledthe influential Child Ballads. The society’s concerts featured a wide variety of traditional music from around the world, including songs fromChild’s collection.

TheChicago schoolof folk musicgained further prominence in the early 20th century with the work of several important folklorists and ethnomusicologists, such asCharles Peabody,Helen Koch,Dorothy Scarborough,and George Herzog. These scholars conducted field research on various aspects of American folk music and published their findings in academic journals and books. Their work helped to legitimize folk music as a legitimate academic field of study.

In addition to their scholarly work, some members of the Chicago schoolof folk musicwere also active performers and promoters of folk music. Perhaps the most famous example isJohn Lomax,who popularized many traditional songs through his field recordings and performances with his sonAlan Lomax. Other notable performers associated with the Chicago schoolincludeOscar Brand,Burl Ives,Pete Seeger,Woody Guthrie,andLead Belly.

The influence of the Great Depression

The Great Depression of the 1930s was a time of hardship for many Americans. For the folk musicians of the time, it was also a time of opportunity. The Depression gave rise to a new form of music, known as “protest music.” This type of music was designed to raise awareness of the problems faced by American workers and to call for change.

Protest music had its origins in the folk music of the early 20th century. Folk musicians such as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger were already writing songs about the struggles of workers and farmers. During the Depression, these songs became more popular than ever. In addition, new protest songs were written about the problems faced by Americans during this difficult time.

The protest songs of the Great Depression era helped to inspire a generation of social activists. Many of these activists went on to play an important role in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Folk music continued to be an important part of the civil rights movement, with artists such as Joan Baez and Bob Dylan writing songs that spoke out against racism and injustice. Today, protest music is still being written about a variety of issues, including war, poverty, and environmental destruction.

The Golden Age

In the early 1920s, the Chicago School of Folk Music emerged as one of the most important centers for folk music in the United States. The school’s founders, including John Lomax, Ruth Crawford Seeger, and Charles Seeger, were committed to celebrating and preserving the folk traditions of America’s various ethnic and regional communities. The school’s golden age lasted until the mid-1930s, when the Great Depression and the rise of commercial radio began to take a toll on the folk music scene.

The rise of the folk music scene

From the early 1950s to the mid-1960s, the United States saw a renewed interest in folk music. This was due in part to the success of folk musicians like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, and also to the increasing popularity of folk-inspired music on college campuses.

This period, known as the Golden Age of Folk Music, saw a resurgence in traditional folk songs as well as the rise of new genres like country and western, bluegrass, and gospel. Artists like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez helped to popularize folk music among a new generation of listeners, and the genre continues to be popular today.

The influence of the Civil Rights Movement

The 1960s saw a number of significant changes in American society, culture, and politics. This decade was also a time of great social and political turmoil. The civil rights movement gained momentum during this time, as did the anti-war movement and the women’s rights movement. All of these factors had a major impact on music, and the folk music scene was no exception.

The Civil Rights Movement was a political and social movement dedicated to ensuring equality for all people, regardless of race. The movement had a significant influence on the music of the time, as many artists used their platform to speak out against injustice. Folk musicians such as Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and Phil Ochs used their music to raise awareness of the cause and rally support for the fight against racism. Dylan’s song “Blowin’ in the Wind” became an anthem for the movement, while Baez’s version of “We Shall Overcome” became a widely sung rallying cry.

The anti-war movement was also a major force in the 1960s. Americans were becoming increasingly opposed to the Vietnam War, and many folk musicians used their music to express these sentiments. Songs like Dylan’s “Masters of War” and Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” spoke

The Contemporary Scene

The contemporary music scene in Chicago is vibrant and alive. There are many different genres represented, and the music community is very supportive. The Chicago School of Folk Music is a great place to learn about the music scene and to find out about upcoming shows.

The resurgence of interest in folk music

In the early 21st century, there has been a resurgence of interest in folk music. This has been in part due to the growing popularity of Americana and roots music, which includes both traditional folk music and contemporary folk music. Genres such as bluegrass, country, gospel, and blues have seen a renewed interest in recent years. Performers such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Odetta, and Woody Guthrie have also influenced the contemporary scene.

The influence of the digital age

The digital age has drastically changed the music industry and the way that music is consumed by audiences. In the past, bands would release an album every few years and go on tour to promote their new music. However, with the advent of streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, artists can release new music much more frequently. This has led to a change in how bands promote their music and how fans consume it.

In addition to more frequent releases, bands are now also using social media to connect with their fans in a more personal way. They will often interact with fans online, answer their questions, and give them a behind-the-scenes look at their lives and work. This interaction wasn’t possible in the past, and it’s one of the many ways that the digital age has changed the music industry.

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