The Folk Music Revival: A History

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


The folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960s brought the music of the people back to the mainstream. Here’s a look at the history of this important musical movement.

The Origins of the Revival

The folk music revival began in the United States in the 1940s when a group of young people started to rediscover the traditional songs of their country. This was a time when many people were moving from the rural areas to the cities, and they were losing touch with their cultural heritage. The revival continued in the 1950s and 1960s, and it spread to other countries such as Britain and Canada.

The British Isles

The Folk Music Revival: A History
-The British Isles
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, a new generation of British folk singers arose, inspired in part by their American counterparts. The most successful and influential of these were Ewan MacColl and his wife, Peggy Seeger. MacColl was already a well-known figure on the left wing of British politics; he had been a coal miner before becoming a full-time professional musician, and had written songs for the labor movement. He was also an accomplished folk singer, with a powerful voice that could convey both tenderness and rage. Peggy Seeger, meanwhile, came from a very different background; she was the daughter of famed American folk singer Charles Seeger, and had studied music at the prestigious Juilliard School in New York.

The United States

The United States saw a similar but much smaller folk music revival in the same period. The most important center of this revival was in the urban Northeast, particularly in New York City, where a group of young musicians and fans created a distinctive new style of folk music, which they called “urban folk.” This new style was based on traditional songs and tunes from Europe and Africa, as well as on the musical traditions of immigrant groups from Eastern Europe, Asia, and Latin America. These urban folk musicians were mostly white, middle-class college students and young professionals who were influenced by the work of Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Pete Seeger, and other folk performers. They created a new repertoire of songs that were political and social commentary, as well as personal expression. The most famous of these urban folk musicians was Bob Dylan, who became one of the leading voices of his generation with his songs about failed relationships, political injustice, and the Vietnam War.

The Growth of the Revival

The Folk Music Revival of the 1950s and 1960s was a time when traditional folk music and singing was rediscovered and popularized by a new generation. This was a time when American folk music was revitalized and became popular again. The roots of the Folk Music Revival can be traced back to the early 20th century.

The British Isles

During the first few decades of the twentieth century, traditional music in the British Isles underwent a tremendous transformation. With the advent of recording technology, musicians were able to preserve their songs and share them with a wider audience. At the same time, a new generation of folklorists and musicologists began collecting and publishing ballads and other types of traditional song. This work helped to spark a renewed interest in folk music, which began to be seen as a valuable part of national heritage.

In the 1920s and 1930s, several influential figures emerged who would play a vital role in the folk music revival. Among them were Cecil Sharp, who did much to popularize English folksong; Ewan MacColl, who would become one of the most important figures in the British folk scene; and A.L. Lloyd, who helped to promote traditional music from around the world.

The revival spread to other parts of Europe in the 1930s and 1940s, with similar movements emerging in Scandinavia, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain. In the United States, meanwhile, folk music was being discovered and performed by such artists as Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, and Burl Ives. By the 1950s, American folk singers like Pete Seeger and Joan Baez were helping to bring traditional music to a whole new audience.

The United States

In the United States, the folk music revival began in the late 1940s and peaked in popularity in the mid-1960s. It was led by performers such as Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Pete Seeger, and The Weavers, who brought traditional folk songs to a wider audience. The revival also popularized a new wave of performers, including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and The Byrds.

The revival had its roots in the work of scholars and collectors such as Charles Seeger, John Lomax, and Robert Carruthers. These individuals helped to preserve and disseminate traditional folk songs through field recordings, concerts, broadcasts, and print publications. In the 1930s and 1940s, groups such as The Almanac Singers and The Weavers popularized folk songs with left-wing political messages. The commercial success of artists such as these paved the way for the major folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960s.

During this period, folk music enjoyed a surge in popularity thanks to the work of performers such as Pete Seeger, Jo Mapes Weaver set out to bridge this divide between academic and commercial approaches to folk music. In doing so, she helped to usher in a new era of folk music which would be defined by its authenticity and its commitment to social change.

The Legacy of the Revival

The Folk Music Revival was a movement in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s. The Revival influenced popular music and brought attention to previously overlooked artists and styles of music. The Revival has left a lasting legacy, both in terms of the music that was created during the Revival, and in the way that the music industry and popular music have been changed by the Revival.

The British Isles

The British Isles have a long and complex history with folk music. The forms and styles of folk music vary greatly from region to region, reflecting the diverse cultures that have shaped the British Isles over the centuries.

The folk music revival of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was led by a group of passionate musicians who sought to preserve and promote the traditional music of their homeland. This movement gave rise to some of the most iconic folk songs of all time, such as “The Wicker Man” and “Danny Boy.”

Today, the folk music revival is considered one of the most important movements in the history of British music. The legacy of the revival can be seen in the work of contemporary artists like Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, and The Pogues.

The United States

The roots of the folk music revival in the United States are often traced back to the work of two men: Robert Winslow Gordon and Charles Seeger. Gordon, a librarian and folklorist, was one of the first to recognize the value of folk music and to start collecting it. In 1918, he founded the American Folk Song Society to promote awareness and appreciation of traditional songs.

Charles Seeger was a musicologist who became interested in folk music while working with Gordon. He went on to become one of the most important figures in the revival, helping to found the Library of Congress’s Archive of American Folk Song in 1928. Over the next few decades, Seeger and others worked to promote folk music through live performances, radio broadcasts, recordings, and publications.

One of the most significant events in the history of the revival was the rise of hootenanny singers like Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly in the 1930s and 1940s. These artists popularized folk songs with new audiences and inspired a generation of singers, including Pete Seeger (Charles’s son) and Bob Dylan. In the 1950s and 1960s, Dylan and other young musicians helped spark a “second wave” of the revival by creating a new style of folk-based music that came to be known as “folk-rock.”

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