English Folk Music

English folk music, like folk music of other countries, was music that the common people played and sang together. Much of it was passed on by oral tradition - repeated singing and memorization that was more "caught than taught".

Folk music required an interactive audience - no one was left out. A professional songwriter was not essential - the folks in the community longed to express themselves and did so by way of their own cultural creations!



English Folk Songs

You may be surprised to learn that the following songs have an English origin. Many times folk songs changed and traveled beyond the original country's borders. Sometimes they became so popular that people forgot where they came from!

Following are some well-known and not so well known folk songs of English origin:

frog went a courting, american folk music

  • A Frog Went A-Courting
    This song actually began in Scotland around 1549, but made its way to England by 1611. America didn't catch wind of it until around 1700!

  • Greensleeves - 1620
    This enormously popular tune has had more than one set of words. It's doleful melody in a minor key is possibly best known today as a Christian hymn proclaiming Christ's birth. It's title?
    "What Child Is This?"

  • Drunken Sailor - 1620


    yankee doodle, james cagney, yankee doodle dandy,americana images

  • Yankee Doodle - 1754
    Probably the best known war song of all time,
    Yankee Doodle tips its hat in thanks to the English
    for its origin.

  • The Riddle - 1785 (I Gave My Love A Cherry)

  • Oh, Dear, What Can the Matter Be? - 1795

  • Charlie Is My Darling - 1830

  • Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes - 1789
    This tune made its way to the U.S. in 1840.

  • On Top of Old Smoky - 1841
    This popular classic was brought to the U.S. by immigrants from the British Isles. You can take folks out of their country, but you sure can't take the country out of the folks!

  • Long, Long Ago - 1833

  • Pop Goes the Weasel - 1853

  • Sweet Betsy From Pike - 1851
    This melody originated in England but the lyrics were American.
    It was popular in the Gold Rush Days.

  • John Peel - 1854
    The U.S. didn't popularize this old tune until 1945!

  • St. Patrick's Day - 1865
    Believe it or not, this was an English melody about Ireland.



    man on the flying trapeze, circus trapeze.english folk music

  • The Man on the Flying Trapeze - 1868
    Wildly popular as a song played
  • by the traveling circus, this tune was written by an Englishman and became popular after the Civil War.

  • Because - 1902

  • The Foggy, Foggy Dew
    Although the exact date of origin is unknown, it is believed that this song was possibly written somewhere between 1654 to 1754.

English folk music has contributed much to the world's rich heritage of timeless folk tunes.

Honor the Brits and whistle an English folk song or two today!



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