Folk Music: The Genuine Roots of African American Culture.

The tree…What is Folk Music? 

Folk music is a type of traditional and generally rural music that was originally passed down in families and other small social groups. Typically, folk music was spread through oral tradition, meaning it was learned through hearing rather than reading. Though the meaning of the term folk music varies according to the part of the world, social class, and period of history, the focus of this post shall be on African Americans’ attributions to the genre of folk.

The seeds..


There are an array of elements that make up folk music. These elements helped form social implications such as the creation of a new language among African Americans, as well as a space for creative expression and cultural bonding. To name a few:

  1. The Banjo: Stringed musical instrument of African origin.
  2. Negro Spirituals: Religious songs of African Americans consisting of their hardships and other hidden messages (oral tradition).
  3. Patting Juba: A rhythmic form of dancing, which was provided by clapping, and foot stomping.
  4. The Jug: A jug that was often used to lay down the bass line, and players could change pitch by changing their embouchure shape or tightness of their lips.
  5. The Fiddle: Similar to a violin, but what made unique was the technique African Americans used to play it.                                                                                   

The roots…

From the onset of history, folk music has shown up at times when people needed it most. The earliest folk songs rose from slave fields as spirituals such as “Down by the Riverside” and “We Shall Overcome.” These are songs about struggle and hardship but are also full of hope. African Americans helped pave the way for folk music and many of the songs that have come to be synonymous with struggle, empowerment, human rights and perseverance have come from the African-American community. Folk music was indeed a commodity consisting of African American culture and tradition.

The branches…

African American folk paved the way for genres of music such as country music and continues to influence many genres today. Some characteristics such as wordplay and storytelling can be seen in much of the Hip Hop of today’s generation.

“All music is folk music. I ain’t never heard a horse sing a song.” -Louis Armstrong

The fruit…A taste of Folk..

Important Folk performers:

  1. Elizabeth Cotten
  2. Lead Belly

Closing remarks and opinions

The influence of African-Americans on the evolution of folk music has been immeasurable. The combination of instruments such as the banjo, rhythm, experience, etc. all unite to create what we know as African American Folk music. African American folk music heavily impacts the lives of African Americans by showing that we as a people are extremely creative. I now have a new level of respect for folk music knowing now that it came from the struggle and creativity of my people.


  • Ruehl, Kim, et al. “The History of African-American Folk Music.” Thoughtco., Dotdash,
  • “A Short History of African-American Folk Music.”,

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