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Ch. 11: Folk Music in the 21st Century


Folk music, like country, pop, jazz, and rock has continually undergone evolution and redefinition. It seems that the broader the umbrella, the more winds catch it to redirect and reshape it.

Gillian Welch

In the 19th century, folk songs were either created spontaneously or adapted from British or European songs by anonymous singers. Singers performed either without accompanying instruments or with portable instruments like guitars, banjos, mandolins, or fiddles.

The early part of the 20th century brought certain types of anonymous folk music, country, cowboy, and blues songs for example, to the surface of public awareness through records and radio. Musicologists such as John and Alan Lomax traveled the rural areas of America to document and record the voice of the common American.

Beginning in the mid-1930s, Woody Guthrie crossed the traditional boundary that separated folk from pop by committing his songs to paper and audio recordings, and attaching his name to them as composer.

Guthrie also changed the focus of the music from that of entertainment and community-building to that of public awareness and motivation towards change. While the era of the social concern folk song was born, the ties that folk music had to acoustic instruments was maintained.

The definition of folk music as an acoustic-based music was challenged and changed by Dylan at Newport in 1965. In the years immediately following, folk was blended with elements of rock or pop to form a less traditional and more electric hybrid; but the blending was only a temporary experiment.

Jake Bugg

During the 1970s and 1980s a few artists, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, and occasionally Dylan himself maintained the thin thread of folk music continuity in the wave of heavy metal, techno, disco, punk, and glam rock.

Since the early 1990s, a series of MTV Unplugged albums provided acoustically challenged rock performers to step away from their amplifiers, distortion pedals, reverb boxes, and synthesizers to perform the purity of the message apart from the electronics.

A new wave of folk-influenced rock artists is currently redefining the concept of folk music by incorporating acoustic guitars and pianos with electronic instruments. These singer-songwriters, like Tracy Chapman, Suzanne Vega, Tori Amos, and Natalie Merchant, are crafting lyrics and performing songs that are introspective, reflective, poignant, and cerebral.

In view of the 19th or early 20th century definitions, these contemporary artists certainly do not qualify as folk musicians, but the insightful focus provided by Guthrie and the expanded instrumental palette established by Dylan opens the door for a broader appreciation of folk music.

From the time of the early 1800s, folk music texts have been about documenting and expressing the deeper levels of the human existence. From the hopeful shouts of the spiritual singers to the social commentary from Guthrie to the biting metaphors of Dylan, folk music has been about creating music which expresses the commonness of mankind’s emotions.

If the essence of the folk song is in finding a way to articulate the hopes, joys, fears, and frustrations of the common individual, then perhaps the musical expressions of hip-hop and rap are also a part of the folk music of the 21st century. In the poetry slams and rap competitions, the voice of the 18th century working man and woman, the African-American slaves, the dust bowl migrants, civil rights workers, and anti-war protesters are heard once more. The rhythms are certainly more complex, the words more like Dylan than “Down in the Valley,” but the origin of the folk music is still the same: the heart of the common American.

Mumford and Sons, Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros: “This Train is Bound for Glory”


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Study Units

An Overview

Ch. 1: Understanding Pitch

Ch. 2: Understanding Musical Pulse

Ch. 3: Understanding Volume

Ch. 4: Understanding Tone

Ch. 5: Understanding Melody

Ch. 6: Understanding Harmony

Ch. 7: Understanding Rhythm

Ch. 8: Understanding Bass

Ch. 9: Understanding Countermelody

Ch. 10: Understanding Structure

Ch. 11: Understanding Instrumentation

Ch. 12: Understanding Tempo

An Overview

Ch. 1: 19th Century: Pre-Foster

Ch. 2: Folk Music by the People

Ch. 3: Popular Music in its Infancy

Ch. 4: Stephen Foster – “Father of American Popular Music”

Ch. 5: The Importance of Stephen Foster

Ch. 6: Scott Joplin – “King of Ragtime”

Ch. 7: The Player Piano – Automated Music

Ch. 8: John Philip Sousa – “The March King”

Ch. 9: John Philip Sousa – Recording Artist and Activist

An Overview

Ch. 1: John Lomax – Recording American Roots Music

Ch. 2: Woody Guthrie – “Father of Modern American Folk Music”

Ch. 3: Leadbelly & Pete Seeger: End of the First Wave

Ch. 4: The Kingston Trio – Beginning of the Second Wave

Ch. 5: Joan Baez – “First Lady of Folk Music”

Ch. 6: Peter, Paul & Mary – Balancing the Message

Ch. 7: Robert Zimmerman – The Beginning of an American Icon

Ch. 8: Dylan in New York City

Ch. 9: Dylan after Newport

Ch. 10: The Importance of Dylan

Ch. 11: Folk Music in the 21st Century

An Overview

Ch. 1: The Roots of Country

Ch. 2: Bristol Beginnings

Ch. 3: The Grand Ole Opry

Ch. 4: Cowboys and the Movies

Ch. 5: Western Swing

Ch. 6: Bluegrass: Hillbilly on Caffeine

Ch. 7: Honky-tonk: Merging Two into One

Ch. 8: The Nashville Sound: Country-Pop

Ch. 9: Rockabilly – Country meets R&B

Ch. 10: Country Feminists Find Their Voice

Ch. 11: The Bakersfield Sound

Ch. 12: Austin “Outlaw” Country

Ch. 13: Neo-Traditionalists at the end of the 20th Century

Ch. 14: Mainstreaming Country in the ‘90s

Ch. 15: Redesigning Country in the 21st Century

An Overview

Ch. 1: What is Jazz?

Ch. 2: Before It Was Jazz

Ch. 3: Jazz is Born!

Ch. 4: Early Jazz Musicians

Ch. 5: Louis Armstrong

Ch. 6: Chicago and Harlem – Hub of 1920s Jazz

Ch. 7: Big Band – Jazz Swing!

Ch. 8: Big Band Musicians and Singers

Ch. 9: Jump Blues and Bop

Ch. 10: Cool Jazz

Ch. 11: Hard Bop

Ch. 12: Free Jazz – Breaking the Rules

Ch. 13: Fusion – The Jazz-Rock-Funk Experience

Ch. 14: Third Stream and World Jazz

Ch. 15: New Age & Smooth Jazz

Ch. 16: Summary – Jazz Lives!

An Overview

Ch. 1: Blues – The Granddaddy of American Popular Music

Ch. 2: Where Did the Blues Come From?

Ch. 3: What Are the Blues?

Ch. 4: How to Build the Blues

Ch. 5: Classic Blues – The Early Years

Ch. 6: Delta Blues – Authentic Beginnings

Ch. 7: Blues in the City – Migration and Power

Ch. 8: Blues in Britain – Redefining the Masters

Ch. 9: Contemporary Blues – Maturity and Respect

Ch. 10: The Relevancy of the Blues Today

Ch. 1: Timelines, Cultures & Technology

Ch. 2: Pre-Rock Influences

Ch. 3: Rock is Born!

Ch. 4: Rock is Named

Ch. 5: Doo-Wop

Ch. 6: Independent Record Labels

Ch. 7: Technology Shapes Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 8: The Plan to Mainstream Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 9: Payola – Rock ‘n’ Roll’s First Scandal

Ch. 1: Crafting Sound in the Studio/Producers and Hit Songs

Ch. 2: West Coast Sound: Beach, Surf, and Teens

Ch. 3: The British Invasion: Two Prongs – Pop & Blues

Ch. 4: Motown and the Development of a Black Pop-Rock Sound

Ch. 5: Soul Music: Gospel and R&B in the Deep South

Ch. 6: The Sounds of Bubble Gum Pop-Rock

Ch. 7: The Arrival of Folk-Rock

Ch. 8: Psychedelic Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 9: Early Guitar Gods of Rock

Ch. 10: Rock Festivals: The Rise and Fall of Music, Peace, and Love

Ch. 11: Anti-Woodstock and Shock Rock Movements

Ch. 1: Technological Breakthroughs

Ch. 2: Electronic Dance Music

Ch. 3: Hip-Hop & Rap – An Introduction

Ch. 4: The Beginnings of Rap

Ch. 5: Old School Rap – Up From the Streets

Ch. 6: Rap’s Golden Age

Ch. 7: East Coast – Political Rap

Ch. 8: West Coast – Gangsta Rap

Ch. 9: The Fragmentation of Rap – Pop, Party & More

Ch. 10: Further Fragmentation – Different Directions

Ch. 11: The Importance of Rap

Ch. 1: Musical Stage Productions in America before the 1800s

Ch. 2: Minstrel Shows and Melodramas

Ch. 3: Stage Presentations in the Late 19th Century

Ch. 4: Early 20th Century: Revues and Operettas

Ch. 5: The Arrival of the Modern American Musical

Ch. 6: Great Partnerships in Book-Musicals

Ch. 7: Musical Theatre Composers in the mid-Century

Ch. 8: Fresh Voices on the Stage in the 1960s

Ch. 9: Two Dominant Forces at the End of the Century

Ch. 10: New Voices at the End of the Century

Ch. 11: New Voices, New Sounds in the New Century

Ch. 12: Musical Theatre Glossary

Ch. 13: Is it “Theatre” or “Theater”?

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