The primary goals of folk music in the 19th century were utilitarian in nature: to entertain, inform of current events, and give expression to religious fervency. However, in the early 20th century, music created by the common man in the 19th century was collected, recorded, and documented for preservation. About the same time, folksong writers began to use the simple sounds of folk music for a different purpose: to bring about change in America. Folksong writers began recording, performing, and writing down their own music. The goal of many of these folk musicians was no longer merely to entertain, but to bring about an attitudinal change in the culture of America. Addressing issues such as widespread poverty in the Depression era, the Civil Rights movement, and the Viet Nam war, the focus for many folk musicians was no longer on entertaining, but in utilizing their talents to bring about social change in America. The balancing of these two goals – entertainment and social change – was the challenge of folk musicians until folk music lost its dominance in American culture in the late 1960s.
What will you learn in this unit?
- Learn about the differences between the role of folk music in the 19th century and that of folk music in the 20th
- Discuss the role of important folk musicians in impacting American culture in times of national crisis.
- Examine what musical instruments were primarily used in 20th century folk music.
- Investigate the lingering impact of 20th century folk musicians on current American music.