The History of Folk Music

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Folk music has been around for centuries and has undergone many changes. In this blog post, we’ll take a look at the history of folk music and how it has evolved over time.

Origins of Folk Music

Folk music is a genre of music that typically uses acoustic instruments and sung by people who share a culture or region. It is often passed down orally from generation to generation. Folk music has its origins in the medieval music of Europe.

Origins in the British Isles

The history of folk music is the history of the traditions of music passed down from generation to generation within a group of people, primarily using the oral tradition. The term folk music itself can have multiple meanings, including but not limited to traditional music, popular music, or ethnic music. The origins of folk music are complex and varied, and it is sometimes difficult to trace its exact origins. However, there are some common threads that can be observed in the history of folk music around the world.

One of the most important things to understand about the origins of folk music is that it is closely tied to the concept of oral tradition. Oral tradition refers to the passing down of stories, traditions, and customs from one generation to another through speech. In many cultures, folk music was used as a way to pass down stories and traditions from one generation to the next. This is because folk music was often passed down through the oral tradition rather than being written down.

One of the earliest examples of oral tradition in folk music can be found in the British Isles. The British Isles have a rich history of Folk Music, with many different styles and traditions emerging from different parts of the region. One of the most famous examples of British Folk Music is that of Celtic Folk Music. Celtic Folk Music has its roots in the countries of Ireland and Scotland, and it was often passed down through generations by being played at social gatherings such as weddings and funerals. Another example of British Folk Music is that of English Folk Music, which has its roots in England and Wales. English Folk Music often includes elements such as ballads and sea shanties, and it too was often passed down through generations by being played at social gatherings.

While the British Isles have a long history of Folk Music, it is important to remember that this is just one example of where Folk Music originated. Folk Music can be found all around the world, with different styles emerging in different regions.

Origins in the United States

Folk music in the United States can be traced back to the arrival of the first English, Irish, and Scottish settlers in the 1600s. These early folk songs and ballads were brought over from Britain and Ireland and often told stories of love, loss, and heartache. Many of these songs were adapted to reflect the American experience, with new lyrics about topics like the Revolutionary War, westward expansion, and life in the new country.

One of the most important institutions in early American folk music was the singing school, which was established in New England in the 1700s. Singing schools were designed to teach people how to sing hymns and other religious music, but they also served as a social gathering place where people could share folk songs.

As American folklore developed, new styles of music emerged, including shape-note singing, negro spirituals, sea shanties, work songs, and cowboy songs. Folk music continued to evolve in the twentieth century with the addition of blues, bluegrass, country music, and other genres. Today, folk music is more popular than ever, with new artists carrying on the tradition while adding their own unique spin.

The Folk Revival

The folk revival was a period of renewed interest in the traditional music of the folk people. It started in the United States in the 1940s and spread to Europe and other parts of the world in the 1950s and 1960s. The folk revival was sparked by the work of a few key figures, such as Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Bob Dylan.

The First Folk Revival

The first folk revival occurred in the United States during the early 19th century. This was a time when people were interested in discovering and rediscovering the music of their heritage. They were also interested in creating new music that was influenced by traditional folk styles. Many of the songs that were created during this time are still popular today, such as “Wildwood Flower” and “Shenandoah.”

The second folk revival began in the 1930s and lasted until the early 1960s. This revival was very important in introducing folk music to a wider audience. During this time, many folk songs were recorded and released on commercial records. These recordings helped to spread the popularity of folk music and make it more accessible to people who were not familiar with the style. Some of the most famous folk songs from this era include “This Land Is Your Land” and “We Shall Overcome.”

The third and most recent folk revival began in the late 1960s and has continued until today. This revival has been driven by a new generation of musicians who were influenced by the earlierrevivals, as well as by musicians from other genres who have been drawn to the style. Folk music has once again become popular, and it is now being performed by both traditional and contemporary artists. Some of the most famous folk songs from this era include “The Times They Are A-Changin’” and “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

The Second Folk Revival

The Second Folk Revival is often considered to have started in the late 1950s with the release of The Weavers’ album “Leadbelly’s Legacy”, which included their interpretations of Lead Belly’s songs. In the following years, a number of folk musicians became popular, including Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and Odetta. The Second Folk Revival reached its height in the early 1960s with the rise of Bob Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel. Dylan’s songs “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are A-Changin'” became anthems of the civil rights movement and anti-war movement, respectively. Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” was a hit on both the pop and folk charts. The Second Folk Revival came to an end in the mid-1960s with the advent of electrified folk-rock bands such as The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield.

Contemporary Folk Music

Folk music has been around for centuries, with its origins dating back to the medieval era. In the past, folk music was primarily used for storytelling and entertainment. In more recent years, folk music has been revitalized and is now used for a variety of purposes. While some folk music is still used for storytelling, much of it now focuses on topics such as social and political issues.

The British Isles

Folk music of the British Isles has been shaped by many factors, from the climate and geography to the influences of invaders and settlers. The Celtic traditions of Ireland, Scotland and Wales have been particularly influential, and British folk music has absorbed many influences from throughout Europe and beyond. As a result, there are now many different styles of folk music in the British Isles, from traditional songs to more modern, contemporary folk.

The history of folk music in the British Isles is long and complex, with roots that go back hundreds of years. In the early days, folk music was mostly about storytelling, with songs being used to pass on tales of love, loss, war and anything else that was important to people at the time. As time went on and different cultures started to mix together, new styles of folk music began to emerge. For example, Irish immigrants brought their own brand of folk music to Britain in the 19th century, which helped to shape the contemporary folk scene.

Today, there are many different types of contemporary folk music being made in the British Isles. Some artists are keeping traditional alive by performing songs that have been passed down through generations, while others are taking influence from a variety of sources and creating something new altogether. Whatever type of folk music you’re into, you’re sure to find something to enjoy from the wealth of talent that exists in the British Isles today.

The United States

Folk music of the United States is often considered Americana music. American folk music is a musical genre that developed in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th century. Folk music consists of original and traditional songs, musics and instrumentation that reflect the life and culture of the people in a particular region or country.

The defining characteristics of American folk music include: use of acoustic instruments; songs which tell stories; and work, love and play as common themes. Folk music often includes ballads and work songs, and relies heavily on musical traditions from Europe, Africa and Native America. Instruments typically used in American folk music include the banjo, accordion, fiddle, pennywhistle, dulcimer, guitar and harmonica.

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