Folk Music: An African American Creation


What is folk music?

Folk music as the term or the genre was originated in the 19th century, however this type of music was created way before then. The word folk refers to the traditional art of a community or culture. Just as folktales are a major part of African American culture so is folk music. Folk music tells different stories about personal and societal struggles. An element used to express this was field holler and cry. It was used as a way to express their (the slaves) pain while still promoting hope. Although it was created before, folk music was created at a time when blacks were seen as less than human, when they were supposed to be broken and had no hope, when they were slaves. However, they still managed to get through all of their hardships while creating songs along the way. Folk music can be dated back to These songs were passed down from generation to generation and related to all age groups. The children participated in play parties which was a celebration that featured games, singing, and dancing without instruments. When the Africans did have instruments such as: the banjo, the djembe, quills and drums, the possibilities were endless for music creativity. 

Work Songs

These songs were created by slaves while they worked or for the purpose of working. Many of these songs contained the call and response element to keep everyone engaged.

Railroad Gandy dancers are workers who were responsible for the construction and upkeep of the railroads. They were called gandy dancers because the tools they used were produced by Gandy and they sang many work songs. These videos listed are just examples of work songs but it is not limited to the use of gandy workers. 

Evolution of Folk Music

Overtime folk music added instruments like the acoustic guitar, the xylophone. Now folk the genre of folk has been broken down into subsections such as: contemporary folk, indie folk, folk metal , folk punk, and that’s just to name a few. Folk music has definitely gotten more diverse as far as artists. Nowadays people relate folk music with white culture because it became a commodity to the whites.


Folk music started out with black artists such as C.C rider, Elizabeth Cotton and Alan Lomax and Now you have artists such as Bob Dylan, Tracy Chapman and Joni Mitchell.


The sounds between old school and new school folk are not totally different however there are differences. Old school folk emphasises passion and the sounds of hard working people. Their instruments were drums, banjo, work supplies and even their own body. New school folk is more uptempo and talks about a variety of things outside of struggles and cultural indifference.


African American folk music is the definition of creating something out of nothing. In my opinion they were very resourceful and creative and their creativity spreaded and influenced other cultures now there is diversity in the folk genre and although that is awesome, I would like to see slaves get the recognition they deserve.

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