Let's Talk About Black Folk

Lila Gilliam

Folk is a genre of music often characterized by its lineage of an oral tradition over many generations. In African Diasporic cultures, Folk music originated in African communities as a means to tell stories, express emotion, and convey messages to the community. As Africans were enslaved and brought to work in the Americas the genre evolved and was even prevalent during the Civil Rights Movement. It has always been connected to Afro-Americans through work songs, protest songs, and many more.

Folk music is rural and raw. The ancestors used banjos, which are stringed instruments created and originated from West Africa to strum as they sang. Guitars, djembes, and other traditional percussive and melodic instruments are also utilized throughout the genre. 

Contemporary folk music is more focused on story-telling and nature and has evolved to be a genre of predominantly white artists. Apple Music and Spotify Playlists of “Folk” Music today contain more white artists than Black. It is important to recognize the imprint that Black Folk Music has had on modern music as a whole.

“I Be So Glad… When The Sun Goes Down” is an example of a folk work song. It utilizes the concept of call and response, which is often used in work songs as well as folk music. 

“Rosie” is an example of the influence that folk music has had on modern-day popular music. This song has been sampled in many charting Pop, R&B, and Rap music. 


Nina Simone is another amazing musician. 

A lot of her music falls under the “Folk” genre as it tells stories of African-American life that can be passed down from generation to generation. Nina Simone is considered to be the “High Priestess of Soul”, but she also has influenced Folk Music considerably.

Much of her music tells stories of the African American and African American Woman experiences, such as “Blackbird” and “Four Women” Her music also spoke to the Civil Rights Movement with “Young, Gifted and Black” and “Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair”.

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