The Origin Stories 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 its origins can be traced back to a variety of cultures and traditions. In this blog post, we explore the history of folk music and its impact on the world today.

Folk Music in the United States

Folk music originated in the United States in the early 1900s. It was originally a type of music that was passed down from generation to generation. Folk music was traditionally made by people who used their voices and instruments to create music.

Origins in the British Isles

The majority of folk music in the United States can be traced back to the British Isles. This is due to the large number of British immigrants who arrived in the country during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Many of these immigrants brought with them the folk music of their homeland, which eventually became fused with the music of their new country. The result is a rich tapestry of folk music that includes both British and American influences.

Some of the most popular genres of American folk music can be traced back to specific regions of the British Isles. For example, Appalachian folk music is largely derived from the music of Scotland and Ireland, while New England contra dancing has its roots in English country dance. Similarly, many African-American folk songs can be traced back to English ballads that were brought to America by British colonists.

Despite its British roots, American folk music has developed into a distinctive musical tradition that is uniquely American. This is evident in the way that different genres have evolved over time to reflect the various cultures and experiences of America’s diverse population. For example, blues and jazz both originated as African-American folk genres, but they eventually developed into distinctively American art forms. Likewise, country music began as a blend of English, Scottish, and Irish folk traditions, but it has since come to be associated primarily with America’s rural Southern states.

In addition to itsBritish origins, American folk music has also been influenced by a number of other cultures. This is particularly evident in the way that many Native American and Hispanic traditions have been incorporated into the various genres of American folk music. For instance, Native American flute music often appears in contemporary American Folk songs, and Spanish-language songs are frequently heard at contra dances and other traditional events.

African American influences

African American music is one of the most important influences on folk music in the United States. African American folk songs were often based on stories of slavery and liberation, and they were usually passed down orally from generation to generation. These songs were often used as a way to communicate news and information among slaves, as well as a form of entertainment. Some of the most well-known African American folk songs include “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,” and “Go Down, Moses.”

European American influences

The earliest American folk music was shaped by the songs of English and Scots-Irish immigrants. These songs were often about daily life, love and loss, religion, or patriotism. Many folklore scholars believe that the term “folk song” originated in England during the 18th century, when it was used to describe popular songs that were not written by professional songwriters. These songs were passed down from generation to generation and became a part of the oral tradition.

One of the most important early folk songs was “Barbara Allen,” which is thought to date back to the 17th century. The ballad tells the story of a young woman who dies of a broken heart after she rejects the advances of a young man. “Barbara Allen” has been recorded by numerous artists, including Bob Dylan and Emmylou Harris.

Another important early folk song is “The Wabash Cannonball,” which dates back to the late 19th century. The song is about a fictitious train that runs from the Wabash River in Indiana to the Pacific Ocean. The “Cannonball” was popularized by the railroad workers who sang it as they worked. It has been recorded by many artists, including Johnny Cash and Woody Guthrie.

Folk Music in Other Countries

Folk music has been around since the beginning of time. It is a musical genre that is passed down from generation to generation and has its origins in the oral tradition. Folk music is the music of the people and is usually based on their life experiences. It is often about love, loss, hope, and other human emotions.

Origins in the British Isles

Folk music has been around for centuries, and its origins can be traced back to the British Isles. Some of the earliest folk songs were written in the Anglo-Saxon language, and many of these songs were about daily life, love, and loss. As time went on, more and more folk songs were written in the English language, and they began to reflect the various cultures and lifestyles of the people who lived in the British Isles.

Folk music quickly spread to other parts of Europe, and it eventually made its way to the Americas. In the United States, folk music was particularly popular during the nineteenth century, and many of the nation’s most iconic folk songs were written during this time period. Folk music continued to grow in popularity throughout the twentieth century, and it remains a popular genre today.

African influences

The music of Africa is as varied as its cultures and people. Traditional African music is rich with the sounds of nature, drums, and vocal harmonies. It often includes complex polyrhythms and shifting meter. The music of Africa is considered the root of all modern day music genres including jazz, blues, rock and roll, hip hop, and country.

African music has been influenced by both the oral tradition and Western musical styles. In the early 1900s, American jazz spread to Europe and then to Africa. Jazz quickly became popular in Africa, especially in countries like Liberia, Egypt, Senegal, Algeria, and Morocco. These countries began to fuse jazz with their own traditional music to create a new sound.

In the 1940s and 50s, African musicians working in France began to mix French pop with traditional African sounds. This new style of music was called Afro-Cuban or Afro-Latin jazz. Some famous Afro-Latin jazz musicians include Mongo Santamaria, Dizzy Gillespie, and Cal Tjader. In the 1970s, a form of African pop called Soukous emerged from Congo (Kinshasa). This upbeat style of dance music was extremely popular throughout Africa and continues to be popular today.

Asian influences

Though it originated in the West, Asian countries have had a significant influence on the evolution of folk music. Several Asian instruments, such as the erhu and sitar, have found their way into Western folk music, and Asian music has been blended with Western music to create new genres, such as J-Folk and K-Pop.

Asians immigrants also brought their own folk music traditions to the United States, which have been passed down through the generations and are still performed today. Chinese immigrants brought instruments like the pipa and erhu, as well as traditional songs and dances. Japanese Americans brought taiko drums and shamisen, while Filipino Americans brought kulintang and other instruments from the Philippines.

Contemporary Folk Music

Folk music has been around since the beginning of human history. Every culture has its own unique brand of folk music, which has been passed down through the generations. Contemporary folk music is a blend of traditional folk music and modern influences. This type of music is usually acoustic and down-to-earth. It often tells stories about real-life experiences and is very relatable.

The Folk Revival

The folk revival was a movement in the United States and Europe that brought folk music back into the popular culture after it had been mostly forgotten for several decades. It began in the 1930s with a few artists like Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly, who brought the music of ordinary people to a wider audience. In the 1940s and 1950s, Pete Seeger and The Weavers popularized traditional folk songs with a new generation of fans. The revival reached its height in the 1960s with artists like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Simon & Garfunkel. Although the revival was mostly over by the 1970s, its impact is still felt in the music of today.

The New Folk Movement

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, a new style of folk music emerged from the American folk music revival. This new style, which came to be known as the “new folk music,” was a more modernized form of folk music that incorporated elements of popular music and traditional folk music.

The new folk music movement was led by artists such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Pete Seeger. These artists brought folk music to a wider audience by performing it in a more contemporary style. They also wrote new songs that addressed topics such as social injustice and the political climate of the time.

The new folk music movement had a significant impact on popular culture and helped to launch the career of many successful musicians. Bob Dylan, in particular, became one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. His songwriting and performers helped to shape the sound and style of popular music for generations to come.

Similar Posts