Folk Music Legends: The Best of the Best

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Folk Music Legends: The Best of the Best aims to be the definitive guide to the greatest folk musicians of all time.

Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie was an American singer-songwriter and musician who is known for his work with the American folk music genre. Guthrie was born in Okemah, Oklahoma, and he began his music career in the 1920s. He gained popularity in the 1930s with his songs about the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. In the 1940s, Guthrie became involved in the labor movement and he wrote many songs about social issues. He died in 1967, but his music has continued to influence generations of musicians.

Life and Music

Woodrow Wilson “Woody” Guthrie was an American singer-songwriter and musician who is best known for his work during the mid-20th century. Guthrie’s musical style was based on American folk music, and his lyrics often focused on the lives of everyday people. He is perhaps best known for his song “This Land is Your Land,” which has become an anthem for the American people.

Guthrie was born in Oklahoma in 1912, and he grew up during the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s. He became a itinerant worker during this time, and he also began to write songs about his experiences. In 1940, he moved to California, where he continued to write and perform music. During the 1950s, Guthrie began to suffer from Huntington’s disease, a degenerative neurological condition that would eventually claim his life. He died in 1967, but his music continued to influence subsequent generations of folk musicians.

Influence on Other Artists

Woody Guthrie was a uniquely influential figure in American music. His songs were adopted by a wide array of artists, including Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen. Woody Guthrie’s music continues to inspire musicians today.

Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger was an American folk singer, songwriter, and social activist. He was a leading figure in the folk music revival and inspired many of the folk, pop, and rock musicians of the 1960s and 1970s, including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Bruce Springsteen. Seeger was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 and the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2002.

Life and Music

Pete Seeger was born in New York City in 1919. His father, Charles Seeger, was a musicologist and professor at Juilliard, and his mother, Constance de Clyver Edson Seeger, was a concert violinist. Pete’s half-brother Mike Seeger was also a noted musician.

Pete began playing the banjo when he was 16 and soon became involved in the folk music scene in New York City. In 1940, he joined the John Henry Mission to help preserve traditional folk songs. He also hitchhiked across America, collecting folk songs from various regions.

In 1943, Seeger met Woody Guthrie and together they founded the Almanac Singers, a left-wing folksinging group. The Singers performed protest songs against World War II and the Depression. They disbanded in 1948, but reformed shortly afterwards as the Weavers. The Weavers had several hits in the early 1950s with songs like “On Top of Old Smokey” and “Goodnight Irene”.

In 1955, Seeger was convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to answer questions about his possible Communist affiliation during the Red Scare hearings. This resulted in him being blacklisted from television for many years. He continued to perform and record music, however, and remained an active voice for social justice until his death in 2014.

Influence on Other Artists

Pete Seeger was an immensely influential figure in the world of folk music, and his impact is still felt today. His songs have been covered by countless artists, and his influence can be heard in the music of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and many others. Seeger was also a political activist, and his music often had a message of social justice. He was blacklisted during the McCarthy era, but he continued to perform and speak out against injustice throughout his life.

Joan Baez

Joan Baez is a legendary figure in the world of folk music. Her career has spanned more than five decades, and she has released dozens of albums. She is also a political activist, and she has been involved in various social causes throughout her life. In this article, we will take a look at Joan Baez’s life and career.

Life and Music

Joan Baez was born on Staten Island, New York, on January 9, 1941. Her father, Albert Baez, was born in Puebla, Mexico, and had come to the United States as a youth. A physicist and mathematician, he had been hired by John Hopkins University in Baltimore shortly before Joan’s birth. Her mother’s ancestors had emigrated from England in 1636. As a child, Joan enjoyed singing along with the records her father played on the family phonograph. When she was seven years old, the Baez family moved from Staten Island to Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In Cambridge, the Baez children–Joan had an older sister, Mimi–attended public schools. As a student at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, Joan became interested in both acting and dance. After graduation from high school in 1959, she briefly considered a career as a veterinarian but instead chose to study at Boston University’s College of Fine Arts. She did not stay long at Boston University; in 1960, she dropped out of school and started performing at clubs and coffeehouses in Cambridge and Boston.

Life and Music

Influence on Other Artists

Joan Baez’s influential career has spanned more than five decades, and her impact on the folk music scene is immeasurable. She has inspired countless other artists with her passion for social justice and her commitment to using her music as a force for good. Bob Dylan, who was famously influenced by Baez, once said that she “opened up my harmonic possibilities and she was the first one who ever did it.” Her influence can also be heard in the work of Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, Emmylou Harris, and many others.

Bob Dylan

There are few artists who have had as much of an impact on music as Bob Dylan. Dylan is a folk music legend who has influenced generations of musicians. His songs have been covered by some of the biggest names in music, and he has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Dylan’s impact on music is undeniable, and he is considered to be one of the best songwriters of all time.

Life and Music

Born in Minnesota in 1941, Bob Dylan grew up idolizing Woody Guthrie and listening to the radio. He began playing guitar and writing songs as a teenager and soon started performing in coffeehouses and clubs in New York City’s Greenwich Village. After being “discovered” by Columbia Records producer John Hammond, Dylan released his self-titled debut album in 1962.

Dylan’s second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, featured the hits “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.” These songs established Dylan as one of the most important young songwriters of his generation. Over the next few years, Dylan became increasingly popular, both as a performer and as a poet of the counterculture. He wrote such classic songs as “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Lay Lady Lay,” and “Forever Young.”

In 1965, Dylan caused a sensation when he went electric at the Newport Folk Festival. This move away from his folk roots alienated some of his fans, but it also won him new admirers. Dylan continued to evolve as an artist throughout the 1960s and ’70s, experimenting with different musical styles and continuing to write brilliant and influential songs. In 2016, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

Influence on Other Artists

Dylan’s impact on popular music is incalculable. As a songwriter, he introduced several generations of listeners to the power and poetry of the blues, while as a singer he influenced the idiom of rock and roll. His best songs—including “Blowin’ in the Wind” (1963), “The Times They Are A-Changin'” (1964), “Like a Rolling Stone” (1965), “Lay Lady Lay” (1969), “Forever Young” (1974), and “Slow Train Coming” (1979)—permanently altered the face of American music. In the 1980s Dylan navigated through several musical phases, including country rock and gospel, with uneven results; but he scored a critical success with Time Out of Mind (1997).

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