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What is Folk Music?

By Mr. Richard “Nick” Noble, ’76, Communications Department

What is Folk Music?

Editor’s Note: This article was previously published at WICN.org.

Essays with questions for titles can be annoying. They are often an excuse for the author to preach his or her opinion with passionate, proselytizing vehemence as if picking a fight with potential readers genuinely curious about the answer. I hope this won’t be one of those, but quite honestly I can make no guarantees. If I had a dollar for every time I have been asked this question in the twelve-plus years I have been hosting THE FOLK REVIVAL, I would have retired a rich man long ago. For a long time, I stopped trying to answer the question “What is Folk Music?” because when I did, it invariably started an argument. People, it seemed, almost always asked the question having their answer already in mind. And their answers—strongly held opinions and beliefs—were often quite disparate.

Go ahead: Google it. Even everyone’s go-to, Wikipedia, can’t make up its mind. The very first line of its “Folk Music” entry has to equivocate:

This article is about traditional, non-commercial folk music. For the 20th-century style associated with a wide variety of subgenres, see Contemporary folk music. “Folk Songs” and “Folksinger” redirect here. For other uses, see Folk Songs (disambiguation) and Folksinger (disambiguation). (Wikipedia)