Folk Music 101: What Is Folk Music?

date: 06/14/00

It's hard to design a site dedicated to folk music when no one agrees on what folk music is.

The question surfaces with the regularity of a whale after diving to various depths.... It never gets answered, but whenever it comes up there are new people who have never considered it before. They enter the fray with a passion and enthusiasm that keeps the the rest of us thoughtful.

OK, but what is folk music? Here are a few "working" definitions that I've heard people use:

One thing is clear - it's not just about the music. The definitions are political, social, and economic as well as aesthetic. But if it can't be defined, we can at least describe what people who consider themselves folk music fans generally listen to. As of today, at the turn of the 21st century, here's what the American "folk scene" looks like:

Here's a list of useful categories, each of which has its own page of netlinks on this site.

In the next article, I'll give a brief history of folk music, tracing the folkways that start in Western Europe and Africa, following particular immigration patterns to the New World.

next article: the shadowy Origins of Folk Music


Hugh Blumenfeld, Editor


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