The folk revival movement of the 1950s and 1960s was a cultural phenomenon that swept across the United States, redefining American music and inspiring a new generation of artists. But who was responsible for starting this musical revolution?
In this article, we’ll explore the roots of the folk revival movement and the group that played a pivotal role in its emergence. From the rural folk clubs of Greenwich Village to the campus protests of the 1960s, this group of musicians and activists helped to create a cultural movement that would shape the course of American music for decades to come. So let’s dive in and discover who started the folk revival movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
The Folk Revival movement of the 1950s and 1960s was a cultural and musical movement that aimed to preserve and promote traditional folk music, especially from rural and working-class communities. The movement was started by a group of young musicians and singers who were inspired by the rich tradition of folk music in America and wanted to revive it. Some of the most notable figures in the Folk Revival movement included Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Pete Seeger, and Alan Lomax. These artists, along with many others, recorded and performed traditional folk songs, and helped to popularize the genre. The Folk Revival movement also had a significant impact on the broader cultural and political landscape of the time, and helped to shape the direction of popular music for decades to come.
The Emergence of Folk Music in the United States
The Influence of European Folk Music
European folk music has had a profound impact on the development of folk music in the United States. Many of the early folk revivalists were inspired by the traditional music of Europe, particularly that of the British Isles. The music of the Irish, Scottish, and English peasants, as well as the ballads of the European common people, played a significant role in shaping the folk music movement in the United States.
One of the key figures in the folk revival movement was Woody Guthrie, an American folk singer and songwriter who was heavily influenced by European folk music. Guthrie’s music drew inspiration from traditional European ballads and he incorporated elements of European folk music into his own compositions.
The influence of European folk music can also be seen in the work of other folk revivalists, such as Lead Belly and Pete Seeger. These musicians were heavily influenced by the traditional music of Europe and incorporated elements of European folk music into their own compositions.
Overall, the influence of European folk music was a significant factor in the emergence of the folk music movement in the United States. The traditional music of Europe provided a rich source of inspiration for American folk musicians and helped to shape the sound and style of folk music in the United States.
The Impact of World War II on Folk Music
The Second World War had a profound impact on the world, including the United States. For folk music, the war brought about a significant shift in its popularity and influence. Many folk musicians were drafted into the military, which led to a decline in the number of active performers. Additionally, the war created a desire for music that was more upbeat and patriotic, which further diminished the popularity of folk music.
However, the war also had a positive impact on folk music. Many servicemen were exposed to different styles of music while overseas, and upon returning to the United States, they brought these new sounds with them. Additionally, the war led to an increased interest in American culture and history, which in turn led to a renewed interest in traditional folk music.
Moreover, the war also had an impact on the way folk music was perceived by the general public. Before the war, folk music was often seen as the music of the working class and was not considered to be of high artistic quality. However, during the war, folk music was used as a means of boosting morale and promoting national unity. This helped to elevate the status of folk music and led to a greater appreciation for its cultural significance.
In conclusion, the impact of World War II on folk music was a complex one. While the war led to a decline in the popularity of folk music, it also led to an increased interest in traditional music and helped to elevate the status of folk music in American culture.
The Folk Music Scene in the 1940s and 1950s
The 1940s and 1950s were a pivotal time for folk music in the United States. During this period, a vibrant folk music scene emerged, characterized by a diverse range of performers, venues, and styles. The following are some of the key developments that took place during this time:
- Emergence of folk clubs and coffeehouses: In the late 1940s and early 1950s, folk clubs and coffeehouses began to spring up in major cities across the United States. These clubs provided a space for folk musicians to perform and for audiences to experience folk music in an intimate setting. Some of the most famous folk clubs and coffeehouses of this era included the Cafe Society in New York City, the Folklore Center in New York and later in Washington, D.C., and the Folklore Society of Greater Boston.
- Growth of the folk music press: During the 1940s and 1950s, a number of folk music magazines and newsletters emerged, providing a platform for folk musicians and enthusiasts to share their knowledge and passion for folk music. These publications included “The Folk Music Journal” (later renamed “Sing Out!”), “The Folk Music Quarterly,” and “Folk Songs.”
- Emergence of folk music festivals: In the 1940s and 1950s, folk music festivals began to take place across the United States. These festivals provided a space for folk musicians to perform and for audiences to experience folk music in a communal setting. Some of the earliest folk music festivals included the National Folk Festival, which began in 1934 and was held in various locations across the United States, and the American Folk Festival, which was held annually in New York City from 1948 to 1954.
- Influence of folk music on other genres: During the 1940s and 1950s, folk music began to exert a significant influence on other genres of popular music. Folk musicians such as Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly had a profound impact on the development of American roots music, and their songs were covered by a wide range of artists, including country musicians, blues singers, and rock ‘n’ roll performers.
Overall, the folk music scene of the 1940s and 1950s was characterized by a rich diversity of performers, styles, and venues, and it laid the foundation for the folk revival movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
The Leading Figures of the Folk Revival Movement
Woody Guthrie, an American folk singer and songwriter, played a significant role in the folk revival movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Born in Oklahoma in 1912, Guthrie was raised in a family that valued traditional folk music. He began his career as a songwriter in the 1930s and quickly gained recognition for his politically charged lyrics and ballads about the struggles of working-class Americans.
During the Great Depression, Guthrie traveled across the United States, documenting the lives of people affected by the economic downturn. He wrote songs about the Dust Bowl, the migrant workers who traveled west in search of work, and the labor movements that were gaining momentum during the period. His most famous song, “This Land Is Your Land,” became an anthem for the folk revival movement and a symbol of American folk music.
Guthrie’s influence on the folk revival movement was significant. He was a mentor to many folk singers, including Bob Dylan, who cited Guthrie as a major influence on his own songwriting. Guthrie’s music was also an inspiration for the folk revival that occurred in the 1960s, with many young musicians looking to his work for guidance and inspiration.
Despite his influence, Guthrie’s life was marked by personal struggles. He was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, a neurological disorder, in the 1950s and spent much of his later years in hospitals and institutions. However, his legacy continued to inspire generations of folk musicians and songwriters, cementing his place as one of the most important figures in American folk music.
Lead Belly, born Huddie William Ledbetter, was a prominent figure in the Folk Revival Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. He was an American folk and blues musician, known for his powerful and expressive vocals, as well as his skillful songwriting and guitar playing.
- Early Life and Influences
- Lead Belly was born in Louisiana in 1888, and grew up in a family that enjoyed singing and playing music.
- He was exposed to various musical genres, including country, blues, and folk music, which would later influence his own music.
- Jail Time and Songwriting
- Lead Belly spent several years in jail for various offenses, including murder and robbery.
- During his time in prison, he began writing songs and performing for his fellow inmates, which helped him gain a reputation as a talented musician.
- Discovery by Folk Revivalists
- Lead Belly’s music was discovered by folk revivalists in the 1930s and 1940s, who were drawn to his powerful voice and unique style.
- Folk musicians such as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger became fans of Lead Belly’s music and helped to popularize it during the Folk Revival Movement.
- Musical Style and Legacy
- Lead Belly’s music was characterized by his deep, soulful voice and his mastery of various musical instruments, including the guitar, banjo, and accordion.
- His music often dealt with themes of love, loss, and social justice, and his songs were known for their powerful lyrics and catchy melodies.
- Lead Belly’s influence can still be heard in contemporary folk and blues music, and he is remembered as one of the most important figures in the Folk Revival Movement of the 20th century.
Pete Seeger was a key figure in the folk revival movement of the 1950s and 1960s. He was a folk singer, songwriter, and activist who was deeply committed to social justice and political change.
Seeger was born in 1919 in New York City, and he grew up in a family that valued music and social activism. His father, Charles Seeger, was a musicologist and composer who encouraged his children to learn and play music from a young age. Seeger’s mother, Constance de Clyver, was a suffragist and peace activist who instilled in her children a sense of social responsibility.
Seeger began his career as a musician in the 1930s, when he joined the Communist Party and became involved in the labor movement. He sang for striking workers and wrote songs that celebrated the working class and denounced inequality and injustice. During World War II, Seeger served in the U.S. Army and was discharged in 1942 for his refusal to stop performing his anti-war songs.
In the 1950s, Seeger became involved in the folk revival movement, which sought to revive traditional folk music and promote social change through music. He became a prominent figure in the movement, and his songs “We Shall Overcome” and “If I Had a Hammer” became anthems of the civil rights movement.
Seeger was also a passionate environmentalist, and he was instrumental in organizing the first cleanup of the Hudson River in the 1960s. He continued to perform and advocate for social justice throughout his life, and he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994.
Overall, Pete Seeger was a key figure in the folk revival movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and his music and activism continue to inspire generations of musicians and social justice advocates today.
The Almanac Singers
The Almanac Singers were a group of musicians and artists who played a significant role in the folk revival movement of the 1950s and 1960s. They were formed in 1941 by Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Lee Hays. The group’s name was derived from their use of the Farmer’s Almanac to determine the dates of astronomical events, which they then incorporated into their songs.
The Almanac Singers were known for their politically charged music, which often addressed issues such as labor rights, racial inequality, and anti-war sentiments. They performed at union rallies, benefit concerts, and other political events, using their music to raise awareness and inspire social change.
Some of the group’s most popular songs include “Which Side Are You On?” “Gimme Shelter,” and “Deportee.” Their music was characterized by simple melodies, folk instrumentation, and lyrics that spoke to the struggles of everyday people.
Despite their short-lived existence (the group disbanded in 1949), the Almanac Singers had a lasting impact on the folk revival movement. Many of their songs became anthems of the labor and civil rights movements, and their influence can be heard in the music of later folk artists such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.
The Spread of the Folk Revival Movement
The Folk Music Clubs and Venues
During the folk revival movement of the 1950s and 1960s, folk music clubs and venues played a significant role in the spread of the movement. These clubs and venues served as gathering places for folk enthusiasts, providing them with opportunities to listen to live performances, participate in open mic nights, and socialize with like-minded individuals.
One of the earliest folk clubs was the Cafe Society, which opened in New York City in 1938. However, it was during the 1950s and 1960s that folk clubs and venues became more popular, with many opening in cities across the United States and the United Kingdom.
Some of the most famous folk clubs during this time included the Folklore Center in New York City, the Folklore Society in London, and the Folk Club in San Francisco. These clubs hosted performances by folk musicians such as Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, and Pete Seeger, who were instrumental in the spread of the folk revival movement.
Folk clubs also served as important centers for folk music education, with many clubs offering workshops and classes on folk music and instrument playing. This helped to cultivate a new generation of folk musicians and enthusiasts, who went on to spread the movement even further.
Overall, the folk music clubs and venues of the 1950s and 1960s played a crucial role in the spread of the folk revival movement, providing a space for folk enthusiasts to come together and celebrate the music.
The Rise of Folk Festivals
The folk revival movement of the 1950s and 1960s was characterized by a renewed interest in traditional folk music, and one of the key ways this movement spread was through the rise of folk festivals. These festivals brought together musicians, fans, and enthusiasts from all over the country, providing a platform for the exchange of ideas and the performance of traditional and contemporary folk music.
One of the earliest and most influential folk festivals was the Folklore Society of California’s annual festival, which began in 1948. This festival brought together a diverse group of musicians, including Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, and Pete Seeger, and helped to establish the west coast as a center of the folk revival movement.
Another important festival was the Newport Folk Festival, which began in 1959 and quickly became one of the most prominent folk festivals in the country. The festival was founded by composer and musician George Wein, and featured performances by a wide range of folk musicians, including Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Lead Belly.
In addition to these established festivals, a number of new festivals emerged in the 1960s, including the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Folk Festival and the Berkeley Folk Festival. These festivals helped to further spread the folk revival movement, and provided a platform for emerging folk musicians to showcase their talents.
Overall, the rise of folk festivals played a crucial role in the spread of the folk revival movement of the 1950s and 1960s, helping to establish a vibrant and dynamic community of folk musicians and enthusiasts.
The Impact of the Media
The media played a significant role in the spread of the folk revival movement. Here are some ways in which the media impacted the movement:
- Radio broadcasts: Radio was a popular medium for music in the 1950s and 1960s, and it played a crucial role in spreading the folk revival movement. Radio hosts like Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie used their shows to promote folk music and share songs that had political and social messages. They also encouraged their listeners to learn and play folk music, which helped to create a community of folk music enthusiasts.
- Television: Television was a relatively new medium in the 1950s and 1960s, but it quickly became a popular way to entertain and inform people. The folk revival movement gained exposure through television shows like “The Folk Singers” and “Folk Music U.S.A.,” which featured performances by folk musicians and interviews with folk music scholars. These shows helped to popularize folk music and gave it a wider audience.
- Print media: Print media, including magazines and newspapers, also played a role in the spread of the folk revival movement. Magazines like Sing Out! and The Folksinger were dedicated to folk music and its history, and they provided information and resources for folk music enthusiasts. Newspapers like The New York Times and The Village Voice also covered folk music events and performances, which helped to create a buzz around the movement.
Overall, the media played a critical role in the spread of the folk revival movement. By providing a platform for folk musicians and scholars, the media helped to create a community of folk music enthusiasts and promote the music to a wider audience.
The Legacy of the Folk Revival Movement
The Revival of Traditional Instruments
The Folk Revival Movement of the 1950s and 1960s was a cultural phenomenon that saw a resurgence in interest in traditional folk music and instruments. One of the key aspects of this movement was the revival of traditional instruments, such as the banjo, fiddle, and acoustic guitar.
The banjo, which originated in Africa and was later adopted by enslaved people in the United States, experienced a revival during the Folk Revival Movement. The banjo became a symbol of American folk music and was played by many prominent folk musicians, including Pete Seeger and Lead Belly.
The fiddle, which is a type of violin that is played in traditional folk music, also experienced a revival during the Folk Revival Movement. Fiddles were often used in traditional Irish, Scottish, and American folk music, and their use was popularized by folk musicians such as Joan Baez and Doc Watson.
- Acoustic Guitar
The acoustic guitar, which is a staple of traditional folk music, was also revived during the Folk Revival Movement. The guitar was played by many folk musicians, including Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, and became a symbol of the folk music movement.
The revival of traditional instruments during the Folk Revival Movement had a significant impact on the music industry. It helped to preserve traditional folk music and encouraged the use of traditional instruments in contemporary music. The use of these instruments in folk music also helped to create a distinct sound that was associated with the folk music movement.
In conclusion, the revival of traditional instruments during the Folk Revival Movement of the 1950s and 1960s had a profound impact on the music industry. The use of instruments such as the banjo, fiddle, and acoustic guitar helped to preserve traditional folk music and create a distinct sound that was associated with the folk music movement.
The Influence on Popular Music
The Folk Revival Movement of the 1950s and 1960s had a profound impact on popular music, shaping the sound and style of many artists and genres. The movement, which began as a response to the commercialization of folk music, was driven by a desire to preserve and promote traditional folk songs and to create a more authentic form of popular music.
One of the most significant influences of the Folk Revival Movement on popular music was the emergence of the singer-songwriter. Artists like Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, and Pete Seeger had long been performing their own songs, but the Folk Revival Movement helped to elevate the role of the singer-songwriter in popular music. This new wave of singer-songwriters, including Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and James Taylor, wrote personal and socially conscious songs that spoke to a generation of young people.
The Folk Revival Movement also had a significant impact on the development of folk rock, a genre that blended folk music with rock and roll. The Byrds, The Lovin’ Spoonful, and Simon & Garfunkel were among the many artists who drew on traditional folk music and instrumentation, such as the 12-string guitar and the banjo, to create a new sound that was both nostalgic and modern.
Another notable influence of the Folk Revival Movement on popular music was the resurgence of interest in traditional American music, such as blues, country, and bluegrass. Artists like Skip James, Son House, and Mississippi John Hurt, who had been largely forgotten in the years following World War II, were rediscovered and celebrated by a new generation of musicians and fans. This revival of traditional American music had a profound impact on the development of rock and roll, as well as on the creation of new genres like Americana and alt-country.
Overall, the Folk Revival Movement of the 1950s and 1960s had a profound and lasting impact on popular music, shaping the sound and style of many artists and genres. The movement’s emphasis on authenticity, social consciousness, and traditional music has continued to influence generations of musicians and fans, and its legacy can still be heard in the music of today.
The Continuing Relevance of Folk Music Today
The Persistence of Folk Music in Popular Culture
Folk music has endured as a significant aspect of popular culture, transcending generations and continuing to influence contemporary artists. The themes and narratives within folk songs often address universal human experiences, ensuring their relevance across time. This longevity is evidenced by the numerous covers and adaptations of traditional folk songs by contemporary artists, demonstrating the continued resonance of these timeless melodies.
The Impact of Folk Music on Modern Genres
Folk music has significantly impacted various modern genres, including rock, pop, and hip-hop. The use of acoustic instruments, raw emotion, and storytelling found in folk music has inspired countless musicians to incorporate these elements into their own works. For instance, the genre of Americana, which blends elements of folk, country, and blues, has gained immense popularity in recent years, showcasing the enduring influence of folk music on contemporary music.
The Importance of Folk Music in Social and Political Activism
Folk music has played a crucial role in social and political activism throughout history. The tradition of using folk songs to voice concerns and promote change continues to this day, with numerous artists employing their music as a platform for raising awareness about various issues. Folk music’s ability to evoke emotion and convey powerful messages makes it an effective tool for mobilizing people and effecting change.
The Therapeutic Qualities of Folk Music
Folk music has long been recognized for its therapeutic qualities, providing solace and comfort to those who engage with it. The emotional depth and storytelling nature of folk songs enable listeners to connect with the music on a personal level, making it an effective form of self-expression and emotional release. The ongoing relevance of folk music in the modern era is, in part, a testament to its enduring ability to provide comfort and healing to those who listen to it.
1. Who started the folk revival movement of the 1950s and 1960s?
The folk revival movement of the 1950s and 1960s was started by a group of young people who were interested in preserving and promoting traditional folk music. This group included artists such as Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, and Pete Seeger, who were all passionate about folk music and its ability to tell the stories of ordinary people.
2. What was the purpose of the folk revival movement?
The purpose of the folk revival movement was to promote and preserve traditional folk music, which had been largely forgotten in the mainstream music industry. The movement was also about promoting social and political change through music, and many folk artists used their music to speak out against inequality and injustice.
3. How did the folk revival movement impact the music industry?
The folk revival movement had a significant impact on the music industry, as it led to a renewed interest in traditional folk music and helped to pave the way for other genres such as rock and roll. Many folk artists also used their music to speak out against social and political issues, which helped to inspire a generation of musicians and activists.
4. Who were some of the most influential folk artists of the 1950s and 1960s?
Some of the most influential folk artists of the 1950s and 1960s include Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan. These artists helped to popularize folk music and inspire a generation of musicians and activists who were passionate about promoting social and political change through music.