Folk Music History:
Regions and Roots of American Folk Songs

The current interest in folk music history is really not surprising. Many of us want to know our "roots" - where did we come from and how can that still influence us today?

Even many young people today love and appreciate the old folk songs and their history. People ages 60 - 80+ certainly remember them.

I classify folk songs as most songs that are older than the 1920s. Some go as far back as the 1400s.

American Folk Song Origin

About 90% of American folk songs (that had their origin outside the U.S.A.) came from the British Isles.

Some of our classic folk songs are American all the way through - many coming from the African slave people of the South, and Appalchia of the mid-west. Other common terms for these particular styles of music were Negro Spirituals and Appalachian Folk Music.

What is Folk Music History?

Folk music can be defined as the music of the common people. Folk songs were usually quite simple in melody and lyrics and depicted some of the life of the pioneers, especially the working class, where pick and shovel work was usually the order of the day.

Negro Spirituals, as they were called, were often songs about struggle and pain, and singing them perhaps encouraged the slaves to envision a better future.

One little known folk music history fact is the following: In 1852, the NOW folk song "Wait for the Wagon" was published at the same time as the first published version of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" - then in a serial magazine form.

Many believe that "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was one of the major causes for the Civil War (1861-1865) and subsequent freedom for the slaves. This war was known to the people of the South as The War Between the States.

Folk music was played on simple instruments, mostly those instruments that were portable. Minstrels, or troubadours as they were sometimes called, were quite popular traveling musicians in the early days of American life. For a beautiful old folk song played with folk music instrumentation, click


Appalachian folk songs spoke of the common life - hard work, family, relationships, and sentiment (like My Old Kentucky Home).

Folk music history is a legacy of simple songs, embraced by the community and passed down through generations of children and grandchildren.

The nostalgia from the past is never far away - sing a folk song today!

Go from Folk Music History to American Folk Music

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