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Who are famous folk music artists?

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woody guthrie
Woody Guthrie took to the rails and headed west in the 1930s to find work
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Wondering who are famous folk music artists in America? Read on ...

Folk music is the melody of the working class and consists of songs about adversity and struggle as well as hope. When slaves were laboring in the fields, they sang spirituals, such as Down By the Riverside, which was a way of distracting themselves from the hardship of their life and an attempt at holding onto hope.

Whenever the country has been in strife, folk music has risen to the forefront because it focuses and addresses the trouble and conflict that the country is facing but is full of hope and is a way of bolstering those who need it most in times of extreme difficulty. Accomplished and budding musicians alike have found inspiration in folk music and folk recordings.

The popularity of folk music ebbs and flows, according to the mood of the country. When the stock market crashed in 1929 and people were displaced and hustling for jobs, folk music was extremely popular as communities were formed in train boxcars, as workers criss-crossed the country trying to find work.

Who are the famous folk music artists who have kept their finger on the pulse of the country and sang about it? There are quite a few who have left a lasting impression on this country and perhaps on the entire world. Their songs and the lyrics resonated with the common man, who was all too familiar with the hardships of life.

Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie, whose name is synonymous with folk music, was a prolific song writer, beginning in the 1930s when he headed to California to try to find work. He kept writing until he died in 1967. Guthrie, who penned This Land is Your Land, said he sang songs that make a person take pride in himself and his work. Many latter day folk singers emulated Guthrie.

Vietnam Protestors

In the 1960s, folk music once again became popular due to the Vietnam War and civil rights issues. Hootenannies were held and folk singers convened with acoustic guitars and new songs in coffee shops. Some of the famous folk music artists of that area include Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan. The lyrics of their songs were based on political observations and an assurance that change was on its way.

Baez led the way for women folk singers. Her successors include Mitchell, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Bonnie Raitt and many others.

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan, AKA Robert Allen Zimmerman, wrote, among other songs, Blowing in the Wind, The Times They Are A Changing, and Mr. Tambourine Man. Dylan was labeled as a protest song writer because his songs were about the tempestuous social climate at the time.

Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell (Roberta Joan Anderson) is famous for her many songs, including Chelsea Morning and Both Sides, Now. A Canadian, she is considered one of the best songwriters ever and one of the most influential and important female recording artists in the last century.

Cat Stevens

Yusuf Islam, formerly and famously known as Cat Stevens, was born Steven Demetre Georgiou. Multi-talented, Stevens is not only a singer and song-writer, but played numerous instruments and went on to become a philanthropist and educator, auctioning his guitars in 1979, leaving his music career behind him. His work includes among many others, The First Cut Is the Deepest, Tea for the Tillerman, and Teaser and the Firecat.

Simon and Garfunkel

Paul Simon was the Simon half of the singing duet Simon and Garfunkel, teaming up with Art Garfunkel.   He is considered to be an innovative and groundbreaking singer and songwriter. Simon wrote Mrs. Robinson, The Sound of Silence and Bridge Over Troubled Water. In 2006, he was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 people who shaped the world. 

Janis Ian

Janis Ian (Janis Eddy Fink, born in 1951) is best remembered for her song At Seventeen, for which she won a Grammy. Ians first hit was Societys Child, which was about an interracial romance. The content was considered taboo by some radio stations, which withdrew the songs from the air after some stations received death threats. 

Jim Croce

Jim Croce, who tragically died in an airplane crash at the age of 30, wrote and sang down to earth music that was hugely popular, including You Dont Mess Around with Jim, Time in a Bottle, and Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.

James Taylor

James Taylor, once the husband of singer Carly Simon, collaborated with Carole King for his second album called Sweet Baby James, which was released in 1970. It was a huge success, and he went on to write many songs, including Fire and Rain.

Harry Chapin

Harry Chapin is best remembered for his folk rock songs Taxi and Cats in the Cradle. Chapin was a relentless humanitarian who fought to end world hunger. He died in a car wreck in 1981 at the age of 39.

Resources: Folk Music

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