NPR Folk Music: 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,


NPR Folk Music: The Best of the Best is a great place to start if you’re looking for the best folk music out there. This blog features some of the best tracks and artists in the genre, and is a great resource for anyone looking to get into folk music.

NPR Folk Music: The Best of the Best

In 2002, NPR asked its listeners to vote for the greatest 100 songs in American history. The results were then posted on NPR’s website, and the top 100 songs were played on NPR stations nationwide. NPR has continued to ask its listeners to vote for the best songs in different genres, and the results of these votes are always interesting. In this article, we’ll take a look at the best folk songs according to NPR listeners.

What is NPR Folk Music?

NPR Folk Music is a website that celebrates the best of the best in folk music. From classic folk songs to new folk songs, NPR Folk Music has something for everyone.

The History of NPR Folk Music

NPR’s Folk Music column is one of the most popular features on, and for good reason. It’s a fun, informative and often irreverent look at the world of folk music, with a focus on the music itself rather than the personalities or politics surrounding it.

The column began in 2006, when then-NPR music director Anya Grundmann asked me to start writing about folk music for At the time, I was a freelance writer and editor living in New York City, and I had just begun exploring the world of folk music after years of being mostly uninterested in it. I started going to concerts and festivals and listening to records, and I quickly realized that there was a lot more to folk music than I had ever realized.

I began writing the column as a way to share my love of folk music with NPR’s audience, and over the years it has evolved into something much bigger than that. In addition to featuring new recordings and live performances, the column has also become a go-to resource for information on all things related to folk music, from news and reviews to history and analysis.

And while I may not be able to cover everything related to folk music in this column (there’s just too much out there), I hope that what I do cover is of interest to you, whether you’re a diehard fan or someone who’s just beginning to explore this rich and varied musical world.

The Best of NPR Folk Music

Here is a list of the best of NPR Folk music. This list includes a wide variety of music from different artists and genres.

– “The Best” by John Prine
– “The Ghost of Tom Joad” by Bruce Springsteen
– “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” by Phil Ochs
– “If I Had a Hammer” by Pete Seeger
– “Killing the Blues” by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss
– “No Depression” by Uncle Tupelo
– “Oh! Susanna” by Flatt and Scruggs
– “Peace Train” by Cat Stevens
– “The Times They Are A-Changin'” by Bob Dylan
– “This Land Is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie

The Best of the Best

NPR’s annual list of the best folk music albums is out, and we’ve got the top three picks for you. If you’re a fan of folk music, you’ll want to check out these albums. First up is The Lock and Key Orchestra’s album “The Places You’ll Call Home.” This album is a collection of original songs that are a mix of folk, country, and rock.

The Best of the Best: Albums

In compiling a list of the best folk albums, we took a few things into consideration: the quality of the songs, the quality of the musicianship, the historic significance of the album and how well it has held up over time. We also considered how often we find ourselves going back to these albums for comfort and inspiration.

We consulted with a wide range of musicians, musicologists and music critics to create this list of 50 essential folk albums. It includes classic releases from throughout the ’60s folk revival, as well as contemporary singer-songwriters who keep the tradition alive.

The Best of the Best: Songs

We’ve compiled a list of what we consider the 100 essential folk songs.

This was no small task. We started with a pool of more than 500 songs and whittled them down to the 100 that seemed to us to be the most essential, the ones that best reflect the genre’s diversity and richness, the ones that have been passed down and revitalized and reinvented over generations. The result is a unique blend of traditional and contemporary folk songs that includes everything from sorrowful ballads and work songs to protest anthems and love songs.

We asked some of today’s most respected folk musicians – including Mary Gauthier, Tim O’Brien, Si Kahn, Joel Mabus, Eliza Gilkyson, Johnsmith, Joe Jencks and many others – to pick their favorite songs from the list. We also asked them to share their thoughts on what makes a great folk song. Here are their selections:

“500 Miles” by Hedy West
“Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” by Sweet Honey in the Rock
“All My Trials” by Odetta
“Amazing Grace” by Judy Collins
“Barbara Allen” by Joan Baez
“Beautiful Dreamer” by The Wailin’ Jennys
“Bessie Jones Medley: Sometimes I Feel Like Cryin’/Children Go Where I Send You/His Eye Is On The Sparrow/Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen” by Bessie Jones & The Sea Island Singers
“Big Rock Candy Mountain” by Harry McClintock
“Black is the Color (Of My True Love’s Hair)” by Nina Simone
“Blackjack Davey” by Bob Dylan

…and many more!

The Best of the Best: Artists

There are many great artists in the folk music genre, but some manage to stand out above the rest. Below is a list of some of the best of the best, in no particular order.

Joan Baez: Often referred to as the “Queen of Folk,” Baez is a highly influential singer and songwriter who has been performing for over 60 years. She is known for her beautiful voice, her commitment to social justice, and her work with legendary artists like Bob Dylan.

The Byrds: This iconic American band was at the forefront of the 1960s folk rock movement. They are known for their signature sound, which blended elements of folk, rock, and country music. Some of their most famous songs include “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!”

Crosby, Stills & Nash: Another supergroup made up of three incredibly talented singer-songwriters, Crosby, Stills & Nash are best known for their harmonies and hits like “Marrakesh Express” and “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.”

The Grateful Dead: The Grateful Dead were one of the most successful and influential bands of their time. They blended elements of folk, blues, country, and rock to create a sound that was uniquely their own. They are also known for their live performances, which often featured extended improvisational jams.

Simon & Garfunkel: This duo needs no introduction; they are one of the best-selling music groups of all time. Simon & Garfunkel’s beautiful harmonies and catchy melodies have earned them a place in the hearts (and record collections) of people all over the world.


Over the course of the last few weeks, we’ve listened to some incredible folk music from all over the world. We’ve heard songs that make us laugh, songs that make us cry, and songs that make us think. It’s been an incredible journey, and we’re so grateful to have had the opportunity to share it with you. Thank you for listening, and we hope you’ll continue to enjoy the best of the best in folk music.

NPR Folk Music: The Best of the Best

The best of the best, NPR’s Folk Music picks for 2012.

Similar Posts