The Resurgence of Folk Music in Popular Culture

By Littleton, Mary Wood | National Forum, Fall 1994 | Go to article overview

The Resurgence of Folk Music in Popular Culture


Littleton, Mary Wood, National Forum


Is Intelligent Music Back in Fashion?

"We were searching for definition in our lives. . ."

Eric von Schmidt & Jim Rooney

We are currently experiencing a folk music revival. However, many of the artists enjoying the swell of popularity that has attended it are loathe to admit they are "folk" artists. Instead, they refer to this thoughtful, original music with less-tainted names, including country-pop, singer-songwriter, bluegrass-pop, fast folk, acoustic rock 'n' roll, contemporary folk, folkabilly, and acoustic-grounded country-folk.

Suzanne Vega, one of the first of these artists to achieve mainstream commercial success, says, "The downside of being called 'folk' is that you are typecast as old-fashioned, hopelessly earnest, unhip, uncool, and so forth." So folk music is not current, not hip, and not cool. But what is folk music?

A Brief History of Folk

Born in Ireland and Scotland into the peasant class, folk music arrived in the United States via the settlers of the Appalachian mountains in the eighteenth century. The songs, often with a dozen or more verses, told tales of the homeland, and often the words, rather than the melodies, of this music haunt our memories.

By the late 1930s and 1940s, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, The Weavers, Alan Lomax, and Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter were writing and performing their own version of this music. Evolving into a vehicle for social and economic change, folk music allowed artists to establish a politicized folk song movement. Many tunes were protest ballads related to the labor movement and the Spanish Civil War, and some of the artists belonged to the American Communist party. Of course, not all of the folk music of this era was political. But it is largely because of this political element that the folk of the forties can be distinguished from the country music of the same period. Both styles were rural, storytelling, traditional musics of the people.

By the late fifties, folk was finding a meeting place in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Perhaps it was providence--or Harvard, Wellesley, Brandeis, Tufts, and Northeastern--that brought the young college students Joan Baez, Peggy Seeger, Eric Sackheim, and Bob Siggins to the Boston area. They certainly didn't come for the folk music scene; none existed in Boston. But they had brought with them recordings of hillbilly music and blues from the forties. Soon these young artists were collaborating and performing at such places as Tulla's Coffee Grinder and Club Mt. Auburn 47. They were joined shortly thereafter by the not-yet-famous Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, Jim Rooney, Tom Paxton, Eric von Schmidt, and Carolyn Hester.

Jim Rooney and Eric von Schmidt have chronicled the experiences from the folk community of the period in their book Baby, Let Me Follow You Down: "The time of our collective sojourn in Cambridge was a kind of generational watershed. We were searching for definition in our lives, and folk music was the vehicle we chose to help us in that search. . . . We redefined ourselves as people through the music we chose to sing and play and listen to."

These young folk artists--inspired and sometimes mentored by such legends as Pete Seeger, Odetta, and The Carter Family--wrote not only about social concerns but also about personal tribulations. Their music was embraced by a generation of young people burdened by the weight of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement. It enjoyed great: commercial success. Although the community in Cambridge is the best known, folk communities were also thriving in Austin, Texas, and New York's Greenwich Village.

The first modern folk revival had begun, although it was met with contentious disregard. Some folk purists took offense at the newcomers who put themselves in the folk category. They complained that the newcomers were too far removed from folk roots and that the art form was doomed.

For decades scholars have been forecasting the death of American folk music. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Resurgence of Folk Music in Popular Culture
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.