The term Folk music came from England, where they took the German word “volk”, meaning people, and applied it to mean the common people of England, the illiterate peasants who passed on stories and legends through song as they were unable to publish books. It is generally considered to be an expression of life in the communities in which the music was developed and is a great help to historians in discovering the way of life of a people. The term has been used since the 19th century, but Folk music has existed for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
Folk music was relatively popular at the beginning of the Romantic period. Josef Haydn and Beethoven were two famous composers who made arrangements of Folk music. Many also composed traditional Folk dances which were virtually indistinguishable from the dances and songs sung by the common people. In recent times, however, Folk music did not have its revival until the 20th century. It is believed that the first Folk music festival took place in 1928, in Asheville, Carolina. Woodie Guthrie was one of the main contributors to the revival of folk music, and as many of the original folk music artists, grew up with Folk music, performing songs his mother had sung to him when he was a child.
Through the 30s and the 40s Folk music continued to rise in popularity. Stars like Jimmy Rodgers in the 30s and Burl Ives in the 40s helped to bring the genre to its peak in the 1950s, with the most popular groups and singers being The Weavers, Harry Belafonte and the Kingston Trio. Their style was an attempt to honour and reproduce the Folk music of the past. This style was popular until the mid-late sixties, when “folk rock” became popular and the Beatles mania swept the world.
In the 60s, the term “protest music” became popular, in which Folk music singers sang against the ideals of capitalism and the war in Vietnam, and in favour of movements such as the American Civil Rights Movement. Certain people call this type of music “antifolk” based on the idea that liberal politics reduces the importance of ethnicity, which is an essential part of Folk music, and that thus protest music is the opposite of true Folk music.
By 1975, the Folk music revival had mostly died out, and was not rejuvenated until the late 1990s, though that revival was to a much lesser extent than the previous one. Throughout the 70s and 80s, popular bands nonetheless took elements from Folk music, and today all over the world there are Folk music clubs and festivals. England’s Cambridge Folk Music Festival sells out in a couple of days, and Port Fairy Folk Music Festival in Australia is incredibly popular as well.
Folk music, while not in a peak revival stage, is still very popular today, and given as it has already progressed hundreds of years, it is not likely to be a form of music we will see disappear anytime in the near future.