folk song

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folk song,

music of anonymous composition, transmitted orally. The theory that folk songs were originally group compositions has been modified in recent studies. These assume that the germ of a folk melody is produced by an individual and altered in transmission into a group-fashioned expression. National and ethnic individuality can be seen in folk music, even in the case of songs transplanted from one country to another. There is scarcely any people whose folk song is wholly indigenous, and among notable cases of transplanting is the English ballad found in various parts of the United States. Many of these were collected in the late 19th cent. by Francis ChildChild, Francis James,
1825–96, American scholar, b. Boston, grad. Harvard, 1846. At Harvard he was professor of rhetoric (1851–76) and English literature (1876–96). He greatly influenced modern methods of Chaucer study.
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 and in the early 20th cent. by Cecil SharpSharp, Cecil James,
1859–1924, English musician, best known for his researches in English folk music. In 1911 he founded the English Folk Dance Society. In the United States he collected (1914–18) folk songs in the Appalachian Mts.
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. In addition, many American folk songs are of other European or African origin. Americans occasionally consider as folk songs certain songs of traceable authorship, e.g., "Dixie."

Interest in folk music grew during the 19th cent., although there were earlier scholars in the field, such as Thomas Percy whose Reliques, a collection of English ballad texts, appeared in 1765. Sir Walter Scott's Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (3 vol., 1803) is a major source on Scottish ballads. Béla Bartók did outstanding work in notating the folk music of central Europe early in the 20th cent., and before him the Russian nationalist composers made use of their country's folk music. Conversely, folk song often shows the influence of formally composed music; this is particularly true of 17th- and 18th-century European folk song.

The collection and transcription of folk music was greatly facilitated by the invention of the phonograph and tape recorder. Using this equipment, John and Alan LomaxLomax, John Avery
, 1867–1948, American folklorist, b. Goodman, Miss. Lomax's first book, Cowboy Songs (1910), contained for the first time in print such songs as "The Old Chisholm Trail," "Git Along Home Little Dogies," and "Home on the Range.
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 gathered many varieties of American folk songs from various cultural traditions throughout much of the 20th cent. Since the early 1950s folk music has become an especially significant influence and source for much popular vocal and instrumental music. Folksingers such as Woody GuthrieGuthrie, Woody
(Woodrow Wilson Guthrie), 1912–67, American folk singer, guitarist, and composer, b. Okemah, Okla. Guthrie was an itinerant musician and laborer from the age of 13.
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 and Pete SeegerSeeger, Pete
(Peter Seeger), 1919–2014, American folksinger, composer, and environmentalist, b. New York City. Seeger, a son of musicologist Charles Seeger and violinist Constance Edson Seeger, stepson of composer Ruth Crawford Seeger, and nephew of poet Alan Seeger, left
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 performed traditional songs and wrote their own songs in the folk idiom, an approach that was later used and modified by Bob DylanDylan, Bob
, 1941–, American singer and composer, b. Duluth, Minn., as Robert Zimmerman. Dylan learned guitar at the age of 10 and autoharp and harmonica at 15. After a rebellious youth, he moved to New York City in 1960 and in the early years of the decade began playing
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, Joan BaezBaez, Joan
, 1941–, American folk singer and political activist, b. New York City. Baez began singing traditional folk ballads, blues, and spirituals in Cambridge, Mass., coffeehouses in a clear soprano voice with a three-octave range.
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, and others.

See also balladballad,
in literature and music, short, narrative poem or song usually relating a single, dramatic event. Two forms of the ballad are often distinguished—the folk ballad, dating from about the 12th cent., and the literary ballad, dating from the late 18th cent.
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; chanteychantey
or shanty
, work song with marked rhythm, particularly one sung by a group of sailors while hoisting sail or anchor or pushing the capstan. Often it has solo stanzas sung by a leader, the chanteyman, with a chorus repeated after each by the entire group.
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; spiritualspiritual,
a religious folk song of American origin, particularly associated with African-American Protestants of the southern United States. The African-American spiritual, characterized by syncopation, polyrhythmic structure, and the pentatonic scale of five whole tones, is,
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.

Bibliography

See J. A. Lomax and A. Lomax, Folk Songs, U.S.A. (1948) and Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads (rev. ed. 1966); C. Haywood, ed., Folk Songs of the World (1966); W. R. Trask, ed., The Unwritten Song (1966); E. Martinengo-Cesaresco, Essays in the Study of Folksongs (1976); S. L. Forucci, A Folk Song History of America (1984); P. V. Bohlman, The Study of Folk Music in the Modern World (1988); B. Filene, Romancing the Folk: Public Memory & American Roots Music (2000); D. K. Dunaway and M. Beer, Singing Out: An Oral History of America's Folk Music Revivals (2010).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved. www.cc.columbia.edu/cu/cup/

folk song

1. a song of which the music and text have been handed down by oral tradition among the common people
2. a modern song which employs or reflects the folk idiom
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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