Evolution of Folk Music

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The Evolution of Folk Music
Almost all of the music that we hear today can be traced back in one way or another to folk music. The evolution of folk music is rich in history and it is easy to see how the current events and the times created the changes that were to occur. Folk music got its roots from Anglo-American Folk Music and later evolved into what was known as the blues and continues to influence much of the music that is written to this day. Many artists have had major impacts on the music industry some of which are Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Muddy Waters and B.B. King. Their individual styles were essential in the evolution of music. By taking a closer look at Anglo-American Folk Music and each of these artists we will be able to understand the role that each of them played in their specific genres.

Anglo-American Folk Music occurred during the time that the original thirteen colonies were being created. It got its start from what was called Psalmody which is the rendering of the 150 psalms of the Old Testament; however they were present in the form of songs. Psalmody is one of the oldest traditions of western music. Psalm tunes were carried over from the old world through the found of the colonies by the English and Dutch. They were often kept in a psalter which is a book that contained psalm tunes. Pilgrims were the first to bring psalters to Plymouth when they arrived in 1620. The religious reform in the 16th century that started in Europe had the greatest impact on the subject matter of Anglo-American Folk Music which was mainly focused on communicating religious matters.

Over the course of 100 years we find that two different styles of communicating the old testaments. One of those was in the written format and the other was in what was called “the usual way” which was through oral communication. The oral tradition is where the Anglo-American Folk style evolved from. It involved what was called “lining out” which is basically one person singing or reciting lines of psalm tunes. There were many critics of the oral tradition who said that there was not enough variation in the tunes and that there were too many changes in pace. The answer to these criticisms was found in singing school during the American Revolution where we see an increase in the musical abilities of our new nation. Of course these schools mainly resided in more highly populated areas. Out in the country you would often find what were called singing masters and composers who often were no more than just common people like craftsmen or small business owners. It was in these singing masters that we found a return to the lack of variation in tunes which was given the name “strophic form” which simple means that the music is the same for all lines. Strophic form is very common in folk music.

The American folk singer Woody Guthrie lived from 1912 to 1967. Woody grew up in Oklahoma and decided to travel out to California during the great depression in hopes of finding better opportunities. However, all he found was more heartache. The economy in California was no better than the rest of the United States. Many of Guthrie’s songs reflect the trials and tribulations of the people he met in his life and of his own life. He is one of the few artists that was truly able to connect to the common people in ways that other artists could not. His music is about the things that happen in people’s everyday lives. He sings about people packing up and looking for better opportunities in other places. His music also varied in its tone. Some of his songs are upbeat and cheerful while others have a more sobering tone to them. In addition to singing and performing Guthrie also had a passion for writing. It is said that he made use of his G.I. bill after the war and attended a college where he took philosophy and writing along with a few other classes. However, he decided to drop out before...
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