American folk music has always been considered to be a type of music suited for the lower classes. The truth is that this music always reached popularity during times of hardship. Although there are a lot of renowned folk singers, many folk songs have an unknown author. The origins of this genre can be traced back to the times of slavery. Later on this music was revived whenever the working class was facing great difficulties. The inspiration for this songs came from major issues such as war, civil rights, working rights and others. Nowadays folk music incorporates many genres and cannot be accurately defined.
American folk music is not so mush a genre as it is a tradition. It rarely had commercial success and most of the times it was transmitted orally. Traditional music is also called root music although a lot of root singers don’t consider themselves to be folk singers. Root music is quite varied and it includes genres such as: country music, gospel, old time music, bluegrass, jug bands, blues, Cajun ,Native American music and Appalachian folk.
The American folk music revival is the most important movement that influenced folk music. During the 40s-60s period folk music reached its most successful stage. The most mentionable music name from that time is The Weavers, a folk band that sold millions of albums. They performed folk music from around the world as well as classic American folk songs. Some folk singers were political activists and their music often caused controversies. The Weavers’ career ended dramatically because of political issues. Other mentionable names from the American folk music revival are: Odetta and Harry Belafonte, The Kingston Trio, Joan Baez , Freedom Singers and even the renowned Bob Dylan. During the revival, folk music was frowned upon by political figures and the commercial success was restricted. However this did not stop the development of this type of music.
The main characteristic of folk music is definitely hope. Whether we are talking about working songs, love songs or war songs folk music is meant to bring comfort in order to help people deal with their everyday problems. Although nowadays it has significantly lost its popularity, folk music is still part of the American culture. Various artists such as James Taylor, Tracey Chapman, Emmy Lou Harris, Joan Baez,John Gorka and Joni Mitchell still continue to impress their audience with their moving performances.