The term folk music
originated in the 19th century
as a term for musical folklore
. It has been
defined in several ways; as music transmitted by word of mouth,
music of the lower classes, music with no known composer. It has
been contrasted with commercial and classical styles.
Since the middle of the 20th century the term has also been used to
describe a kind of popular music
is based on traditional music. Subgenres include folk rock
, folk metal
and progressive folk music
Origins and definitions
The terms folk music
, folk song
, and folk dance
are comparatively recent
expressions. They are extensions of the term folk lore
, which was coined in 1846 by the
English antiquarian William Thoms
describe "the traditions, customs, and superstitions of the
uncultured classes." The term is further derived from the German
the sense of "the people as a whole" as applied to popular and
national music by Johann
and the German Romantics over half a century
A literary interest in the popular ballad was not new: it dates
back to Thomas Percy
and William Wordsworth
. English Elizabethan
and Stuart composers had often evolved their music from folk
themes, the classical suite
upon stylised folk-dances and Franz
's use of folk melodies is noted. But the emergence
of the term "folk" coincided with an "outburst of national feeling
all over Europe" that was particularly strong at the edges of
Europe, where national identity
was most asserted. Nationalist
emerged in Eastern Europe, Russia, Scandinavia, Spain
and Britain: the music of Dvorak
and many others drew upon folk
melodies. The English term "folklore", to describe traditional
music and dance, entered the vocabulary of many continental
European nations, each of which had its folk-song collectors and
However, despite the assembly of an enormous body of work over some
two centuries, there is still no certain definition of what folk
music (or folklore, or the folk) is. Folk music may tend to have
certain characteristics but it cannot clearly be differentiated in
purely musical terms. One meaning often given is that of "old
songs, with no known composers", another is that of music that has
been submitted to an evolutionary "process of oral transmission
.... the fashioning and
re-fashioning of the music by the community that give it its folk
character." Such definitions depend upon "(cultural) processes
rather than abstract musical types...", upon "continuity
and oral transmission
...seen as characterizing one side of
a cultural dichotomy, the other side of which is found not only in
the lower layers of feudal, capitalist and some oriental societies
but also in 'primitive' societies and in parts of 'popular
Locations in Southern and Central
Appalachia visited by the British folklorist Cecil Sharp in 1916
(blue), 1917 (green), and 1918 (red).
Sharp sought "old world" English and Scottish ballads
passed down to the region's inhabitants from their European
He collected hundreds of such ballads, the most productive
areas being the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and the
Cumberland Mountains of Kentucky.
For Scholes, as for Cecil Sharp
, there was a sense
of the music of the country as distinct from that of the town. Folk
music was already "seen as the authentic expression of a way of
life now past or about to disappear (or in some cases, to be
preserved or somehow revived)," particularly in "a community
uninfluenced by art music" and by commercial and printed song.
Lloyd rejected this in favour of a simple distinction of economic
class yet for him too folk music was, in Charles Seeger
's words, "associated with a
lower class in societies which are culturally and socially
stratified, that is, which have developed an elite, and possibly
also a popular, musical culture." In these terms folk music may be
seen as part of a "schema comprising four musical types:
'primitive' or 'tribal'; 'elite' or 'art'; 'folk'; and
Revivalists' opinions differed over the origins of folk music: it
was said by some to be art music changed and probably debased by
oral transmission, by others to reflect the character of the race
that produced it. The competition of individual and collective
theories of composition set different demarcations and relations of
folk music with the music of tribal societies on the one hand and
of "art" and "court" music on the other. The traditional cultures
that did not rely upon written music or had less social
stratification could not be readily categorised. In the
proliferation of popular music genres, some music became
categorised as "World music" and "Roots music".
The distinction between "authentic" folk and national and popular
song in general has always been loose, particularly in America and
Germany - for example popular songwriters such as Stephen Foster
could be termed "folk" in
America. The International Folk Music Council definition allows
that the term "can also be applied to music which has originated
with an individual composer and has subsequently been absorbed into
the unwritten, living tradition of a community. But the term does
not cover a song, dance, or tune that has been taken over
ready-made and remains unchanged."
The post World War 2 folk revival in America and in Britain brought
a new meaning to the word. Folk was seen as a musical style, the
ethical antithesis of commercial "popular" or "pop" music, while
the Victorian appeal of the "Volk" was often regarded with
suspicion. The popularity of "contemporary folk" recordings caused
the appearance of the category "Folk" in the Grammy Awards
of 1959: in 1970 the term was
dropped in favour of "Best Ethnic or Traditional Recording
(including Traditional Blues)", while 1987 brought a distinction
between "Best Traditional Folk Recording" and "Best Contemporary
Folk Recording". The term "folk", by the start of the 21st century,
could cover "singer song-writers
such as Donovan
, who emerged in the 1960s and much more" or perhaps even
"a rejection of rigid boundaries, preferring a conception, simply
of varying practice within one field, that of 'music'."
Europe and America
Celtic traditional music
in many cases is based on
a combination of Irish
other traditional musics associated with lands in which Celtic languages
are or were spoken.
is often included,
though significant research showing that this has any close musical
relationship is lacking. Brittany
's Folk revival began in the 1950s
with the "bagadoù" and the "kan-ha-diskan" before growing to world
fame through Alan Stivell
's work since
Ireland, The Clancy
Brothers (although its members were all Irish-born, the group
became famous while based in New York's Greenwich Village),
The Dubliners, Clannad, Planxty, The Chieftains, The
Pogues, The Irish Rovers, and a
variety of other folk bands have done much over the past few
decades to revitalise and re-popularise Irish traditional music.
bands were rooted, to a greater or lesser extent, in a living
tradition of Irish music and benefited from the efforts of artists
such as Seamus Ennis
and Peter Kennedy
During the Communist era national folk dancing was actively
promoted by the state.Dance troupes from Russia and Poland toured
Western Europe from about 1937 to 1990. The Red Army Choir
recorded many albums. A
choir from Bulgarian State Radio
recorded "Le Mystere des Voix
Bulgares" which was promoted by British DJ John Peel
The Hungarian group Muzsikás
numerous American tours and participated in the Hollywood movie
while the singer Márta Sebestyén
worked with the
band Deep Forest
. The Hungarian
in the 1970s, involves strong cooperation between musicology
experts and enthusiastic amateurs. Hungarian folk music and folk
culture still survived in rural areas, as it did also in Romania
The movement revived broader folk traditions of music, dance, and
costume together and created a new kind of music club. The movement
spread to ethnic Hungarian communities around the world. Today,
almost every major city in the U.S. and Australia has its own
Hungarian folk music and folk dance group; there are also groups in
Japan, Hong Kong, Argentina and Western Europe.
The Balkan folk music was influenced by the mingling of Balkan
ethnic groups in the period of Ottoman
. It comprises the music of Bosnia and Herzegovina
, Republic of Macedonia
, the historical states of Yugoslavia
or the State Union of Serbia and
and geographical regions such as Thrace
. Some music is characterised by
complex rhythm. An important part of the whole Balkan folk music is
the music of the local Romani
It is sometimes claimed that the earliest folk festival was the
Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, 1928, in Asheville, North
Carolina, founded by Bascom Lamar
. Sidmouth Festival began in 1954, and Cambridge Folk
Festival began in 1965. The Cambridge Folk Festival in Cambridge, England is noted for
having a very wide definition of who can be invited as folk
The "club tents" allow attendees to discover
large numbers of unknown artists, who, for ten or 15 minutes each,
present their work to the festival audience.
is still popular among some audiences today, with folk music clubs
meeting to share traditional-style songs, and there are major folk
music festivals in many countries, eg the Woodford Folk Festival, National Folk Festival and Port Fairy Folk
Festival are amongst Australia's largest major annual
events, attracting top international folk performers as well as
many local artists.
This includes the music of Americana
Anti-folk now has a home at the Antihootenany in the East Village,
where artists like Beck, Regina Spektor, the Moldy Peaches and
Nellie McKay got their starts.
Many Asian civilisations distinguish between art/court/classical
styles and "folk" music, though cultures that do not depend greatly
upon notation and have much anonymous art music must distinguish
the two in different ways from those suggested by western
The European folk revival
The first folk revival influenced western classical music
. Such composers as Percy Grainger
, Ralph Vaughan Williams
and Béla Bartók
, made field recordings or
transcriptions of folk singers and musicians.
In Spain Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909) produced piano works reflect his
Spanish heritage, including the Suite Iberia
Enrique Granados (1867-1918) composed zarzuela
light opera, and Danzas Españolas
- Spanish Dances. Manuel
de Falla (1876–1946) became interested in the cante jondo
of Andalusian flamenco
, the influence of which can be strongly
felt in many of his works, which include Nights in the Gardens of
and Siete canciones populares españolas
Spanish Folksongs", for voice and piano). Composers such as
and Francisco Tarrega
established the guitar
as Spain's national instrument. Modern Spanish
Folk artists abound (Mil i Maria, Russian Red et al) modernizing
whilst respecting the traditions of their forebears.
grew in popularity through the 20th century, as did northern styles
such as the Celtic music of Galicia.
French classical composers, from Bizet
, also drew upon Spanish themes, and
distinctive Spanish genres became universally recognised.
The folk revival of the 1950s in Britain and America
While the Romantic nationalism of the folk revival had its greatest
influence on art-music, the "second folk revival" of the later 20th
century brought a new genre of popular
with artists marketed by amplified concerts, recordings
and broadcasting. The American Woody
collected folk music in the 1930s and 1940s and also
composed his own songs, as did Pete
. In the 1930s Jimmie Rodgers
, in the 1940s
and in the 1950s Seeger's group
, Harry Belafonte
, The Kingston Trio
, and The Limeliters
found a popularity that
culminated in the Hootenanny
and the associated magazine ABC-TV
in 1963–1964. Sing
magazine helped spread both traditional and composed
songs, as did folk-revival-oriented record companies.
In the 1960s, folk singers and songwriters such as Joan Baez
, Bob Dylan
, and Tom
followed in Guthrie's
footsteps, writing "protest music
and expressing support
for the American Civil Rights
. The Canadians Gordon
, Leonard Cohen
, Bruce Cockburn
and Joni Mitchell
were all invested with the
Order of Canada
. Dylan's use of
electric instruments helped inaugurate the genres of folk rock
, particularly by his album John Wesley Harding
and his support for
the music of The Band
. Many of the acid rock
bands of San Francisco began by playing
acoustic folk and blues.
Alan Lomax came to Britain and met A.L.'Bert' Lloyd
and Ewan MacColl, a meeting credited as
inaugurating the second British folk revival.
In London the
colleagues opened The Ballads and Blues Club, eventually renamed
the Singers' Club, possibly the first folk
: it closed in 1991. As the 1950s progressed into the
1960s, the folk revival movement built up in both Britain and
Kingdom, the folk revival fostered young artists like
Martin Carthy and Roy Bailey and a generation of
singer-songwriters such as Bert Jansch,
Ralph McTell, Donovan and Roy
Bob Dylan, Paul Simon
and Tom Paxton visited Britain for some time in the early 1960s,
the first two, particularly, making later use of the traditional
English material they heard.
The late 1960s saw the advent of electric
groups, a key moment being the release of Fairport Convention
's album Liege and Lief
. Guitarist Richard Thompson
the music of The Band demanded a corresponding "English Electric"
style, while bassist Ashley
formed Steeleye Span
order to pursue a wholly traditional repertoire. In the second half
of the 1990s, once more, folk music made an impact on the
mainstream music via a younger generation of artists such as
, Kate Rusby
Popular folk subgenres
- Contemporary country music
descends ultimately from a rural American folk tradition, but has
evolved. Bluegrass music is a
professional development of American old
time music, intermixed with blues and
- Exponents of electric folk music
such as Fairport Convention,
Pentangle, Alan Stivell, Mr. Fox
and Steeleye Span saw electrification
of traditional musical forms as a means to reach a far wider
- Traditional folk music merged with rock and roll to form folk rock performers such as The Byrds, Simon
& Garfunkel and The
Mamas & the Papas. Since the 1970s a genre of "contemporary
folk" fueled by new singer-songwriters has continued with such
artists as Chris Castle, Steve Goodman, and John
Prine. The Pogues and Ireland's
The Corrs brought traditional tunes back
into the album charts.
- In the 1980s artists like Phranc and
The Knitters propagated cowpunk or folk punk, which
eventually evolved into alt country.
More recently the same spirit has been embraced and expanded on by
performers such as Dave Alvin, Miranda Stone and Steve
- Hard rock and heavy metal bands such as Korpiklaani, Skyclad, Waylander and Finntroll meld elements from a wide variety of
traditions, including in many cases instruments such as fiddles, tin whistles, accordions and bagpipes.
Folk metal often favours pagan inspired themes. Black
metal and viking metal are defined
on their folk stance, incorporating folk interludes into albums
(eg, Bergtatt and Kveldssanger, the first two albums by
once-black metal, now-experimental band Ulver). Other subgenres include.
- Indie folk
- Industrial folk music
- Filk music can be considered folk
music stylistically and culturally (though the 'community' it arose
from, science fiction fandom,
is an unusual and thoroughly modern one).
- Neofolk began in the 1980s, fusing
traditional European folk music with post-industrial music, historical
topics, philosophical commentary, traditional songs and paganism. The genre is largely European.
- Anti folk, began in New York City in
the 1980s by Lach in response to the "confined"
American folk music
- Folk punk, (known in its early days as
rogue folk), is a fusion of folk music and punk rock. It was
pioneered by the London-based Irish band The Pogues in the
- Radical Folk of the present claims
to tackle age old political issues such as workers rights and capital punishment. It is represented by
groups such as such as The Last
Internationale of New York.
- Percy Scholes, The Oxford Companion to Music, OUP
1977, article "Folk Song".
- A.L.Lloyd, Folk Song in England, Panther Arts, 1969,
- Richard Middleton, Studying Popular Music,
Philadelphia: Open University Press (1990/2002). ISBN
0-335-15275-9, p. 127.
- Ronald D. Cohen Folk music: the basics (CRC Press,
2006), pp. 1-2
- International Folk Music Council definition (1954/5), given in
Lloyd (1969) and Scholes (1977).
Seeger (1980), citing the approach of Redfield (1947) and
Dundes (1965), quoted in Middleton (1990) p.127
- A.L.Lloyd, Folk Song in England, Panther Arts, 1969,
- Middleton 1990, p.127.
- Charles Seeger (1980) quoted in Middleton (1990) p.127
- Example given by both Scholes (1977) and Lloyd (1969)
- Quoted by both Scholes (1977) and Lloyd (1969)
- http://www.tvtome.com/Hootenanny/ TVtome.com
Retrieved on 05-03-07
- Hall of Fame acceptance speeches by Sally and Barry
- Anon. (2003) Lamentations chez les nomades bakhtiari
d'Iran. Paris: .
- Bayard, Samuel Preston (1950). "Prolegomena to a Study of the
Principal Melodic Families of British-American Folksong",
Journal of American Folklore , 77-91.
- Bevil, J. Marshall (1987). "A Paradigm of Folktune Preservation
and Change Within the Oral Tradition of a Southern Appalachian
Community, 1916-1986." Unpublished. Read at the 1987 National
Convention of the American Musicological Society, New Orleans.
- Carson, Ciaran (1997). Last Night's Fun: In and Out of Time
with Irish Music. North Point Press.
- Cartwright, Garth (2005). Princes Amongst Men: Journeys
with Gypsy Musicians. London: Serpent's Tail. ISBN
- Cowdery, James R. (1990). The Melodic Tradition of
Ireland. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press.
- Harker, David (1985). Fakesong: The Manufacture of British
'Folksong', 1700 to the Present Day. Milton Keynes
[Buckinghamshire]; Philadelphia: Open University Press. ISBN
- Hogeland, William (2004). " Emulating the Real and Vital Guthrie, Not St.
Woody". New York Times (March 14).
- Jackson, George Pullen (1933). White Spirituals in the
Southern Uplands: The Story of the Fasola Folk, Their Songs,
Singings, and "Buckwheat Notes". Chapel Hill: University of
North Carolina Press.
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- Middleton, Richard (1990). Studying Popular Music.
Milton Keynes; Philadelphia: Open University Press. ISBN
0-335-15276-7 (cloth), ISBN 0-335-15275-9 (pbk).
- Mills, Isabelle (1974). The
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Tyrrell. London: Macmillan.
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- Seeger, Charles (1980). Cited in Middleton (2002 )
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in Folksong Research: A Short History", Folklore 95, no.
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