What you need to know about Folk Music..
Folk music has been around the United States for at least one hundred and fifty years. It exists in other parts of the world as well, especially in many European countries using tradtional musical instruments. The popularity of folk music can currently be seen in a thriving scene in west London which have produced talents like Mumford and Sons who have topped charts for music downloads. The words themselves – folk music – are a term for musical folklore.
In fact, folk music can be defined in a number of ways. The most prominent definition, and the one that enjoys the greatest acceptance, is that folk music is the music of the lower classes. It has also been described as music that is transmitted by word of mouth and as traditional music, as well. Folk music traditionally is light on drums with more emphasis on stringed instruments that can be easily transported.
In 19th century America, it had its origins among recently-arrived Africans living on plantations in the pre-Civil War south. The music, often melancholy, chronicled and told the story of the plight of these Africans who were, in fact, disadvantaged slaves. Brought to America from their homelands on slave ships, forced into servitude and without any rights, their songs and accompanying music reflected the difficulties they endured.
After the Civil War was fought and won by the slave-free North, men and women of African heritage were given their freedom and allowed to live as American citizens although bias and prejudice still existed and remained for nearly one hundred years. No matter. Folk music after the war’s end was much less sad and far more joyful and lively.
Over years, the remainder of the 19th Century and for part of the 20th Century, different sub-genres emerged – bluegrass … pure country … country-western … folk-rock and more. Each of these sub-genres had its own, sizable fan base. The truth is, that while musical forms like rap, pop and hard rock, genres that are very popular today, have vast audiences and fan bases, the argument can be made that folk music is the most popular of all … or very close to being the most popular.
The words in folk songs often tell a story while the music always finds an audience willing to listen and enjoy. Folk music stars and Country-Western stars are among the most popular performers in America today. And they owe their success to the legends who paved the way, the people who made Folk Music mainstream beginning in the very early 1960s.
At that time, Rock and Roll ruled, not Folk Music. But new stars and musical singing sensations captured the mood of the country with their “protest” songs and other “message music” that found huge audiences.
Who were these musical megastars? The biggest star was, of course, Bob Dylan, a guitar-strumming musician and songwriter with an off-key singing style. He captured the imagination of the entire nation with his “messages in music.” There were many others, too – Peter, Paul and Mary, The Kingston Trio, Pete Seeger, Odetta, Joan Baez, The Righteous Brothers (of Unchained Melody fame), The Brothers Four and many others far too numerous to mention here.
Their music resonated with millions of young people who opposed the Vietnam War and sought other societal changes, as well. It’s fair to say, in fact, that the Folk Music stars of the 1960s created the successful environment for folk music that exists today.