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Contemporary Folk

Contemporary folk music, or now more commonly just known as folk music, refers to the revival of folk music that occurred in the 20th century when new, more popular forms appeared that had links to traditional folk music. During the genre’s formative years of 1930s-1950s artists such as Woody Guthrie set a precedent for the genre by singing traditional and original songs, as well as displaying firm political views. Guthrie could often be identified by the phrase ‘This Machine Kills Fascists’ which was displayed on his guitar. Other artists such as Burl Ives commercialised and popularised folk music in this period. In 1958 the Kingston Trio achieved notable success with their song Tom Dooley, indicating the beginning of the era of popular folk music. Moving into the 60s, one of the main social issues was that of civil rights and the Vietnam War. 

Folk music was a platform to address these current issues and so became central to protests and activist movements. Various leading folk singers, including Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, became key figures, writing songs about peace and the war such as Dylan’s Masters of War and The Times They Are A-Changin’, and Mitchell’s The Fiddle and the Drum. Contemporary folk music is typically characterised by its emphasis on meaningful lyrics over complex composition. The lyrics most often comment on social issues, hardships, and potential future change. The music often relies on acoustic instruments playing simple chord progressions in a simple time signature, although from the 60s onwards electric instruments such as the electric guitar began to be used. 

Notable artists:

Woody Guthrie

Burl Ives

Bob Dylan

Joni Mitchell

Leonard Cohen

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