by Ashantee Goggins
What is Folk Music?
Folk music is music that is passed through generations with traditional or cultural ties. Though a piece of music does not have to have a certain type of sound to be technically considered as folk, a lot of traditional folk music has a certain type of sound. Instruments such as the banjo and fiddle give a the sound that is often confused for country, but
identifiable as folk.
When most people think of folk music, they may think of white artists and, therefore, European origins. Because of the circumstances under which folk music was born, black
people’s role in the creation of this genre is not common knowledge to many.
The different ways that enslaved black people had expressed themselves have a very great influence on the different genres of music that we have today. Different musical practices that were taking place back then are still being replicated in modern music. For example, various versions of call and response are implemented in different genres.
As it relates to folk, black people created the sounds and practices of it. Instruments of African origin or inspiration are used to keep time and play the tunes of folk music.
Even the creation of hamboning can be credited to black people, since a mixture of hand clapping, foot tapping, and striking different parts of the body was used to substitute drums.
While the foundation was laid by black people, white people were the ones to perform in front of others, spreading the musical habits of black people as if it were their own. Since there was no credit given to black people, it’s almost as if these facts were erased from history. If you were to look up the history of folk music, most videos and articles write about it from a white American lens, not even mentioning the black origin of the ideas. Some will even say that there is no precise origin for this type of music, and others give credit to European migrants.
Even with the attempts to erase black people from the history of folk, black people in the past and in modern day are participating in the creation and advancement of folk music, a seemingly exclusive genre throughout its rewritten history. Artists like those in the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Tracy Chapman, and others continue to be a strong, black, and known presence in folk music.
The artists of the band, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, have even participated in interviews and actively told the untold black history in folk music. These efforts by them and many others have kept the black origins of folk out of danger of being lost in the sea of misinformation.
The history the of black people in folk music is often overlooked. When you research folk music, the first thing you come across is certainly not how black people created it while expressing themselves on plantations across North America. In an attempt to enjoy this creation, white people began to play folk music for others, making it seem as their own. This has created a hidden history of folk music. Luckily, this history can now be revealed quicker and to more people at once. With these resources, the hidden history can now be unfolded to those who will listen.