Folk Music: Through the Eyes of a Black Woman

Origin and Influences

African American folk music is the earliest form of African American music. A common misconception about most music is that it was created by white people. When people think of folk music in particular, most relate that sound to the white man. This is a myth and in fact, the African Americans were the ones that created folk music along with son many other genres of music.

Elements of African American Folk Music

1. Call and Response

In music, a call-response structured song is a technique where a singer or instrument makes a musical statement that is answered by another group of people or another instrument(s). In the modern day world, you see this technique in the black church/gospel church music and in Hip-Hop music.

2. Polyrhythmic Sound

Polyrhythm is when several contrasting rhythms are played or sung simultaneously. Polyrhythmic sound is found in Pop music, RnB music, and Hip-Hop music (all music that black people created). Today, polyrhythmic movements can even be seen in modern and contemporary african dance classes.

3. The Bango

The banjo is an instrument of African origin, originally with one to six strings and a neck running parallel to a gourd body. This is an instrument that modern day people look to white people for. But history forgets that this is an instruments that black slaves held onto and brought over from African.

Primary Performers

Some primary and famous African American folk artists, musicians, and performance include the legendary, Lead Belly and the very honorable, Odetta.

Lead Belly

Lead Belly was an American folk and blues musician. He was most notable for his strong vocals, virtuosity on the twelve-string guitar, and all of the different folk standards he introduced into the world of music.


Odetta was an African American singer, actress, guitarist, lyricist, and a civil and human rights activist. Her musical talents consisted largely of American folk music, blues, jazz, and spirituals.

Social Implications

Many see African American folk music as a sign of rebellion on the plantation. It angered the oppressors that the slaves found a way that they could express themselves. Especially when that way was in fact creative, unique, and like no other. Folk music has given America culture and Americans owe that to black people.


Folk music was created by the slave, for the slave. Slaves used African American folk music as an outlet and place to put their pain. The turned pain into melody and music. It was a beautiful thing that white people and Europeans made ugly in many ways. They used our talents and creativeness to profit off their own lives. We now think of folk music as the white man’s music. People like Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash are who people think of. They made our music, for them. Socially, folk music isn’t the Black persons music even though we created it.

Influence on other genres

The bonds of slavery along with the fight and creativeness of African Americans is what brought musical culture to the United States. Without African American folk music, Americans wouldn’t have thinks Blues, Jazz, Hip-Hop, Country, etc. All those genres have both folk music to thank, and black people to thank for their creations.


As a young black woman it is important to study all genres of music. The existence of almost all genres of music in the United States originates directly from Black people. They don’t want us to know how creative we are, but as a black woman it is important to look through our lenses because our lenses matter. The story of truth is not what we may learn in the classroom or what we say in the media.

Imani Wingfield

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