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Top Ten Most Famous Folk Music Artists

Written by: Editorial Staff

March 25, 2011
Filed Under Music 


A list of the top ten best folk musics of all timeContributed by Cara Hartley, Top 10 Guru

As Louis Armstrong famously declared, “All music is folk music. I ain’t never heard a horse sing a song,” but connoisseurs of this traditional genre are quick to allege their affection for those artists who lament the common man’s struggle in song.

The allure of folk music is found in the artists themselves, individuals who so poignantly describe the plight of the downtrodden and disenfranchised members of society.

The following is a compilation of the top ten most famous folk music artists of all time:

10. Shel Silverstein

Shel Silverstein is on the list of the top ten most famous folk music artists

Shel Silverstein was a multi-faceted artist who is famous not only for his childrens books, but also for his contributions to folk. Silverstein’s wit, gravely voice, and ability to find humor in everyday situations made him an instant hit in the music industry. As the composer of “A Boy Named Sue” and multiple albums Silverstein holds the role as one of the most famous folk music artists of all times.

9. Peter, Paul and Mary

Peter, Paul and Mary are on the list of top ten famous folk music artists

Peter, Paul and Mary – “Peter, Paul and Mary are folk singers” states the insert in this group’s first album, and this trio remains the pinnacle of folk in the minds of many. With the 1963 song “Puff the Magic Dragon” Peter, Paul and Mary demonstrated the loss of innocence that so well described the the riots, uprisings and protests that defined the era.

8. The Highwaymen

The Highwaymen are on the list of the top ten most famous folk music artists

The Highwaymen were a combination of musical geniuses. Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Krisoffterson comprised a folk band whose number one hit “Highwayman” topped the charts in 1985. With lyrics such as “I may come back as a single drop of rain, but I’ll be back again” the Highwaymen captured the essence of a generation’s hope for a better future.

7. Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen is on the list of the most famous folk music artists

Leonard Cohen defined folk music of the late 60′s and early 70′s with a seriousness and emotionalism that remains unmatched to this day. The oral tradition upon which folk music was founded is clearly seen in the poetry of Cohen’s lyrics.

6. Crosby, Stills and Nash

Crosby Stills and Nash are on the list of the top ten famous folk music artists

This band originated in the home of either Joni Mitchell or Mama Cass, and have been entertaining fans with their social commentary for generations. Crosby, Stills and Nash were each as individuals instrumental in three separate bands, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and The Hollies prior to their coalescence.

5. Neil Young

Neil Young is one of the top ten famous folk music artists

An original member of Buffalo Springfield, Neil Young went his own way in 1969 and has been rocking in the free world ever since. In joining with Crosby, Stills and Nash for the 1970 album Deja Vu, the group enjoyed the title of the “American Beatles.” Young’s work with Crazy Horse produced some of his biggest hits, but his greatest work has arguably been his solo work, highlighting the use of guitars in folk music. He is unafraid of controversy, and to this day continues to attack injustice, war, and corruption wherever he finds it.

4. Simon and Garfunkel

Simon and Garfunkel are in the list of top folk music artists

In 1957, at age 15, Simon and Garfunkel broke the Top 50 with their cover of an Everly Brother’s song, but have been contributing to the folk scene with countless original hits ever since. Simon and Garfunkel caught the spirit of the political upheaval of their time with the release of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme. An important song of that album, A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I was Robert McNamara’d into Submission), references the most influential figures of the era, and encourages the illicit drug use that exemplified the age. As the duo responsible for the soundtrack of The Graduate, Simon and Garfunkel solidified their prominent position in folk history.

3. Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan is on the list of the most famous folk music artists

Robert Allen Zimmerman is a poet, protestor, and folk icon. His release of The Times They Are A-Changin’ along with his relationship with Joan Baez in the early 1960′s ensured his fame and success. Dylan has starred in films, won the Kennedy Center Honors, and is still touring at the age of 69.

2. Arlo Guthrie

Arlo Guthrie is on the list of top ten famous folk music artists

Arlo Guthrie’s first hit, Alice’s Restaurant, was released a month after his father’s death, and represented the beginning of a career that would inspire hordes of young anti-war activists. A masterful musician in his own right, his fame by proximity to his father, Woody Guthrie, was overshadowed by his role in the film Alice’s Restaurant.

1. Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie is number one on the list of famous folk music artists

Woody Guthrie’s job at the KFVD radio station in California allowed him his first large-scale public outlet for his music and social criticism. Guthrie formed a group of musicians and activists in New York City called The Almanac Singers to take on union-organizing, anti-Fascism, pro-Communism and anti-war causes. The Almanac Singers eventually became the Weavers, which was the most popular folk music group of the century. Woody Guthrie was the quintessence of folk music, combining musical, social, and political elements fueled by his personal history of hardship to connect with his fans through his iconic role as an “outsider”.

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2 Responses to “Top Ten Most Famous Folk Music Artists”

  1. Robert Resnik on December 27th, 2011 2:15 pm

    so, this article was posted in March, and 9 months later you still have a picture of Creedence Clearwater Revival for your description of Crosby Still & Nash? Fire your webmaster….right now!

  2. Will Taylor on April 10th, 2012 6:51 pm

    I’m dismayed at the exclusion of Joni Mitchell? What was the reasoning?