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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
Jack (Who is called Jack) Folkies vs Singer/Songwriters (89* d) RE: Folkies vs Singer/Songwriters 08 Jul 99


There is a real and valuable field of study called Musicology. For lack of a better word its kind of a mixture of anthropology & history with music as its subject. To the musicologist, folk or traditional music is a rather narrow and specific thing. Sea shanties, spirituals, work songs, delta and piedmont blues, mountain songs from the oral tradition, fiddle tunes, cajun dance music, Native American chants, etc, are folk and traditional music.

Back in the '50's and 60's there was wave of interest in rediscovering (mostly) american folk and traditional acoustic music that coincided with--and in some ways motivated--a wave of interest in becoming a creator of ones own songs in the acoustic tradition. These two waves were coincident not only in time, but often in geography and in the people who participated in them (For example there was a scene centered on Folk City in New York, a rather bland history of which can be found in a book called HOOT! whos particulars escape me for the moment).

Because of the temporal, geographical, and in some individuals, personal coincidence of these waves of interest, they kind of got mixed up in a lot of peoples minds. Adding to the confusion the fact that in course of trying to sell the recorded work that resulted from these revivls, record companies and distributors, always anxious to target the right demographic, started using the term folk to mean everything from Sonny Terry, to Jean Ritchie, to The Weavers, to Harry Belafonte, to Peter Paul and Mary, to Bob Dylan, to Paul Simon, to Joni Mitchell etc, in the belief, (probably somewhat warranted), that a lot of the same people who bought one would be likely to buy the others. Then to seal the deal, some of the performers thus subsumed in the public mind under the 'folk' umbrella became huge popular icons, and folk became associated more with these big names than with a particular genre or set of genres. After that, when people thought of folk most didn't think of Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, or Woody Guthrie, or Gary Davis, they thought of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Ritchie Havens, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, or Judy Collins etc.

Some of these performers do proper service to "real" folk and traditional music, while others have abandoned it in favor of their own creations, and still others have been exclusively committed to their own work. No matter. In the minds of the public the wedding has taken place and singer-songwriters have taken the folksinger family name.

Some have no problem with this, and use the word Folk to mean what we are refering to hear as Singer-Songwriter. As an example I refer you to Alan Rowoth's quasi-daily electronic newsletter, FOLK DIGEST, which deals almost exclusively with information about singer-songwriters.

Still, others, of whom I will single out, begging thier permission, Art Thieme and Barry Finn, have never acknowledged the validity of the union. And to their credit they have certain arguements in their favor. There is a formal academic field concerned with folk music, and it is important to maintain the integrity of that body of work. That integrity rests in part on preserving the true identity of the terms and elements of that work in peoples minds.


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