The 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,


The Chicago School of Folk Music is a non-profit educational institution dedicated to the preservation and advancement of traditional and contemporary folk music and dance.

The Birth of the Chicago School of Folk Music

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, a group of young folk musicians in Chicago began to develop a new style of folk music that was based on the traditional songs of the rural South. This new style, which came to be known as the Chicago School of Folk Music, blended the traditional sounds of the South with the more modern sounds of the city. The result was a unique and powerful form of folk music that was unlike anything that had been heard before.

The Rise of the American Folk Music Revival

The American folk music revival was a phenomenon in the United States that began during the 1940s and peaked in popularity in the mid-1960s. Its roots went deep into the 19th century, when a little-known genre called folk music began to develop in rural communities across America. This music was passed down from generation to generation by families and friends, and it eventually found its way into the mainstream.

During the early 20th century, folk music became increasingly popular, thanks in part to its use in popular media such as movies and radio. By the 1940s, folk music had become an American institution, with songs like Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” becoming household classics.

The American folk music revival was sparked by a new generation of performers who were inspired by the original folk musicians of the 19th and early 20th centuries. These artists began to perform traditional folk songs in a new style that was influenced by jazz, blues, and other genres. Among the most famous performers of the folk revival were Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan.

The folk revival reached its peak in the 1960s, when a new wave of performers emerged on the scene, including Simon & Garfunkel, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and The Mamas & The Papas. Folk music became increasingly politicized during this time, as artists used their songs to comment on social issues such as civil rights, poverty, and the Vietnam War.

Despite its popularity during the 1960s, the American folk music revival came to an end by the end of the decade. However, its impact can still be felt today in the work of contemporary artists who continue to be influenced by traditional folk music.

The Spread of the Chicago School

In the early years of the twentieth century, the city of Chicago was a hotbed of musical activity. All kinds of music could be heard in the city’s busy streets, from the latest popular tunes to the traditional music of Europe and Africa. In this fertile environment, a new kind of music was born: folk music.

The Chicago School of Folk Music was founded in the late 1920s by a group of young musicians who were interested in exploring and promoting this new musical genre. These musicians, including John and Alan Lomax, Charles Seeger, and Win Stracke, were influenced by the work of earlier folklorists such as Francis James Child and Cecil Sharp. They were also influenced by the work of contemporary composers such as Aaron Copland and Igor Stravinsky.

The school’s founders believed that folk music was an expression of the true spirit of America. They believed that it should be studied and preserved for future generations. To this end, they began collecting folk songs from all over the country. They also gave concerts and workshops to help people learn about and enjoy this unique kind of music.

The school’s activities helped to spread interest in folk music throughout the United States. In time, other schools devoted to folk music were founded in other cities, including New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. The spread of the Chicago School’s ideas also helped to bring about a revival of interest in traditional folk music in Europe.

The Main Figures of the Chicago School

The Chicago School of Folk Music was a group of folklorists and musicologists who worked together in the city of Chicago in the early twentieth century. The group is most associated with the work of two of its members, Charles Seeger and his wife, Ruth Crawford Seeger.

Frank Hamilton

Frank Hamilton was born in Chicago in 1909. He became interested in music at an early age and started playing the banjo when he was just ten years old. By the time he was sixteen, he was already performing professionally.

In the late 1920s, Hamilton met Winifred Smith, a musicologist who was working on a project to collect and preserve folk songs from around the country. Hamilton began working with her, and together they traveled to different parts of the country to record songs and interviews with people who knew them.

The work of Hamilton and Smith was instrumental in preserving many important folk songs, including “The House of the Rising Sun,” which later became a hit for The Animals.

Winifred Moore

Winifred Moore was a pivotal figure in the development of the Chicago School of Folk Music. A classically trained singer and musicologist, she came to Chicago in 1912 to study at the University of Chicago. There she met and married George May, with whom she would have three children. May was an important early member of the Chicago School who would go on to form the Newberry Library’s Folk Music Department.

While living in Chicago, Moore became involved in the city’s burgeoning folk music scene. She began collecting songs from various traditions and performing them for audiences around town. In addition to her work as a performer, she also wrote articles and reviews for various publications, including The Newberry Bulletin and The Chicago Defender.

In 1925, Moore helped found the Chicago Folklore Society, which would become a key player in the development of the Chicago School of Folk Music. Through her work with the Society, Moore helped to promote awareness of folk music and foster its growth in the city. She also played an important role in documenting and preserving many of the region’s folk songs and traditions.

Moore continued to be active in the Chicago folk music scene until her death in 1935. Her work helped lay the foundation for what would become one of America’s most important musical traditions.

John Work

John Work was an American musicologist and folklorist who was influential in the Chicago School of Folk Music. He was born in Missouri in 1871 and moved to Chicago in 1893 to attend the World’s Columbian Exposition. He began collecting songs from African American laborers working on the exposition. In subsequent years, he collected songs from around the United States, making field recordings and transcribing the lyrics. He published several books of folk songs, including American Negro Songs (1918) and Folk Songs of the American Negro (1926). He also wrote articles for music journals such as The Musical Quarterly. Work died in Chicago in 1942.

The Legacy of the Chicago School

The Chicago school of Folk music was a term used to describe a group of musicians in the city of Chicago who were united by their love of Folk music. This group included such legends as Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, and Pete Seeger. The Chicago school of Folk music was a major force in the American Folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960s.

The Impact on American Folk Music

The Chicago School of Folk Music was a major force in the development of American folk music in the early 20th century. The school was founded by musicologist John Lomax and his wife Ruby in Chicago in 1916.

The school’s mission was to promote and preserve traditional folk music from all over the world. The school’s founders believed that folk music was an important part of the cultural heritage of every nation, and they set out to document as much of it as possible.

Over the next few years, the Lomaxes and their students traveled all over the United States and Europe, collecting hundreds of songs and recordings. They also compiled several important books on folk music, including Folk Songs of North America (1925) and Folk Songs of the British Isles (1926).

The school’s work had a profound impact on American folk music. Many of the songs collected by the Lomaxes and their colleagues became standards in the repertoire of folk musicians, and their work helped to spark a renewed interest in traditional music.

The Impact on World Folk Music

The Chicago school of folk music was highly influential in the development of world folk music. The school’s focus on American and European folk music helped to shape the sound of folk music around the world. The school’s emphasis on improvisation and creativity inspired musicians from all over the globe to experiment with new sounds andstyles. The impact of the Chicago school can still be heard in the music of today.

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