Folk Music Legends You Need to Know

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Here are some of the most influential and well-known folk music legends that you need to know!

Woody Guthrie

Though he passed away over seventy years ago, Woody Guthrie’s influence can still be felt in modern folk music. Guthrie was known for his dust bowl ballads and protest songs, which spoke to the struggles of the working class. He was a master of storytelling, and his songs continue to inspire musicians today.

His Life

Woodrow Wilson “Woody” Guthrie was an American singer-songwriter and musician who is one of the most significant figures in American folk music. He wrote hundreds of political, traditional and children’s songs, along with screenplays, novels and poetry. He frequently performed with the slogan This machine kills fascists displayed on his guitar. His best-known song is “This Land Is Your Land”. Many of his recorded songs are archived in the Library of Congress. Throughout his life, Guthrie was associated with United States Communist groups, though he was never a member of the party.

His Music

Woody Guthrie was an American folk singer and songwriter who is often considered one of the most influential musicians of the twentieth century. Guthrie’s songs often dealt with social and political issues, as well as his own personal experiences. His most famous song, “This Land Is Your Land,” has become an anthem for the American people.

Guthrie was born in Oklahoma in 1912. He grew up during the Dust Bowl, a period of severe dust storms that devastated the Midwest in the 1930s. Guthrie’s father was a supporter of unionization and socialism, which led to Woody’s own political leanings.

Guthrie began his musical career in the early 1930s, playing with various bands and traveling around the country. He eventually ended up in New York City, where he became involved in the city’s vibrant folk scene. It was here that Guthrie met Lead Belly, another folk legend who would have a profound influence on his music.

In 1940, Woody marriedMarjorie Mazia, a dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company. The couple had three children together: Arlo, Nora, and Joady. Guthrie also adopted Marjorie’s daughter from a previous marriage, Cathy.

During World War II, Guthrie wrote many patriotic songs supporting the war effort. However, he also became increasingly critical of American society, particularly its treatment of minorities and working-class people. These themes would come to dominate his later work.

In 1947, Woody was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, a degenerative neurological condition that would eventually lead to his death in 1967. Even as his health declined, Guthrie continued to write and perform music whenever he could. His final album,, was released posthumously in 1968 and featured many of Woody’s most iconic songs.

Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger was one of the most influential folk musicians of the 20th century. His career spanned over 70 years, during which he wrote and popularized many songs that became anthems of the anti-war, civil rights, and environmental movements. Though he was never a hugely successful commercial recording artist, his songs were covered by some of the most popular artists of the day, including Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.

His Life

On May 3, 1919, Peter Seeger was born in New York City to Constance and Charles Louis Seeger Jr. His father, a musicologist, exposed young Pete to music from all over the world, and his mother taught him to play the piano. In the 1930s, Pete’s father helped to found the folk music group the Almanac Singers. Pete often performed with the group and began to develop his own style of playing banjo and singing.

In 1940, Pete enrolled at Harvard University, but he dropped out after a year to pursue his music career full-time. He soon became one of the most popular and influential folk musicians in America. In the late 1940s, he co-founded the folk group The Weavers. The group had several hits, including “Goodnight Irene” and “On Top of Old Smoky.”

Pete Seeger was blacklisted during the McCarthy era for his leftist political beliefs. He continued to perform and speak out against social injustice throughout his life. In 1961, he wrote “We Shall Overcome,” which became an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement. He also played an active role in the environmental movement and worked to clean up pollution in New York’s Hudson River.

Pete Seeger died on January 27, 2014, at the age of 94. He left a lasting legacy as one of America’s most iconic folk musicians.

His Music

Pete Seeger was a master of the folk song form, writing such classics as “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season),” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?,” and “If I Had a Hammer (The Hammer Song)” with collaborators such as Woody Guthrie, Lee Hays, and Malvina Reynolds. He was also a prominent civil rights activist, using his music to spread messages of social justice and peace. In addition to his work as a solo artist and songwriter, Seeger was a member of several influential bands, including the Almanac Singers, the Weavers, and Peter, Paul & Mary. He continued to perform and record into his 90s, winning his first and only Grammy Award in 2006.

Lead Belly

Lead Belly was one of the most influential folk musicians of his time. His music was a mix of blues, gospel, and country, and he was known for his distinctive vocal style. Lead Belly’s music was a major influence on the development of rock and roll, and he is considered one of the pioneers of the genre.

His Life

Huddie William Ledbetter – better known as Lead Belly – was born in Mooringsport, Louisiana, in 1889. He learned to play the mandolin as a child, and later took up the guitar. In his early teens, he was sentenced to work on a Louisiana plantation for killing a man in a fight; he was pardoned after serving three years of hard labor.

In 1918, Lead Belly was sent back to prison – this time for attempted murder. He sang for the warden and was released on good behavior after serving just two years. He then moved to Texas, where he became a successful musician, playing in bars and dance halls around Dallas and Shreveport.

Lead Belly began his recording career in the early 1930s. His first recordings were made for the American Folk Songs label in New York City; these included such classics as “Midnight Special” and “Rock Island Line”. In 1934, he recorded for the Library of Congress; these recordings were later released by folk musicologist John Lomax.

Lead Belly continued to record and tour throughout the 1930s and 1940s. In 1949, he appeared at the White House at the invitation of President Harry Truman; this performance helped to raise his profile among mainstream audiences. He died of Lou Gehrig’s disease in 1949 at the age of 60.

His Music

Lead Belly was an American folk and blues musician notable for his strong vocalizations, his guitar playing, and the many songs he wrote. He is best known for such folk standards as “Goodnight, Irene”, “Midnight Special”, “Cotton Fields”, and “Gallows Pole”. Lead Belly’s repertoire also included rhymed couplets (“Rock Island Line”), religious music (“Oh Mary Don’t You Weep”, “Jesus Gonna Be Here”), and field hollers (“Bourgeois Blues”). He also wrote songs about people in the news, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Adolf Hitler, Jean Harlow, and Clark Gable. In addition to his better-known compositions, Lead Belly also played and sang a number of traditional songs from the American South. He frequently performed for less formal occasions such as picnics and parties.

Similar Posts