Folk – The Beginning of an Era in African-American music


The earliest form of the negro spiritual is the folk spiritual. In fact, one of the earliest forms of African-American music is folk music itself. Its origins lie in in the early 1900’s when African slaves would use musical elements from their homeland (like drumming, clapping, etc) to create music that often described their struggles as enslaved persons while also expressing hope for the future. 


Ringshout is a popular characteristic of the genre as it was a unique form of musical expression in which African-Americans would dance, shout and sing around in a circle in church-like settings. This musical expression was unlike anything anyone had ever heard before and in quoting the video watched it class, “It gave them a religion of feeling and physical identification.”

Social Implications

In a way, folk music was a a form of rebellion against the teachings and forceful demands of their white oppressors. Because enslaved Africans were able to create this unique culture that spread beyond music through the folk genre, they sent a message that although the oppressors took away virtually everything from the Africans, they could not take their music and they could not change what was a part of the soul of African-Americans. 

Important Performers & Commodification

Some of the most important performers of this genre are Elizabeth Cotton, who was a founding creator of this genre, and Odetta, a black folk singer who did not receive the credit she rightfully deserved during the 1950’s when more popular white folk artists like Johnny Cash dominated the genre. White folk artists commodified this genre and often times passed it off as their own, even when singing songs written and performed earlier by black folk artists, and thus, made much more of a profit on this genre that was originally created by blacks.

Influences on other genres and conclusory opinions

Without folk music, we would not have any other musical genres today like blues, jazz, hip-hop, rap, R&B, etc. In addition to this, other genres would not be what they are today without the musical elements like call and response, that were created during the folk era.

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