Folk is music of the people, shares news of struggle and home communities

by Deb Bartlett

Ask people what folk music is, and you'll get a variety of answers. Is it about the music? The lyrics? The song's history? According to Wikipedia's entry on folk music, it's all of those things: music that's performed by custom over a long period of time; that has no known composers; and that has been transmitted orally. It can describe the traditions of the "uncultured classes" and definitely means it's music of the people. And because it's been shared orally, it is music that has a place, or is indicative of a community. In some circles, because folk music tells stories about events and history, it's known as world music. In a dissertation, Rachel Clare Donaldson simply stated "Folk music is what the people sing."

As it pertains to the album Folkie Folk in our Collection 4 - Boomer Tracks, folk music refers to contemporary folk music, which is newer composed songs by known authors. 

Woody Guthrie is one of the pioneers of North American contemporary folk music, who is credited with inspiring and mentoring generations of performers musically and politically. A naturally gifted musicians, he was one of the thousands of Oklahomans who ventured west in the 1930s look for work. He landed a job at a radio station, performing hillbilly and traditional folk music. Though never a member of the communist party, Guthrie agreed with its platform, and much of his music addressed inequality, and the struggles of working class people. Guthrie was fired from the radio station as his politics began to interfere with events leading up to WWII; he headed to New York City, where he made his first recordings, and penned his most famous song, This Land Is Your Land. 

It was during this time in the 1940s, when Guthrie became friends with Pete Seeger that the popularity of folk music began to grow. Many folk artist had leftist politics, and the artists were banned from mainstream outlets. They performed in college and university towns, and in places like Greenwich Village, which 20 years later birthed the Beat and counterculture movements.

Those movements gave rise to the second wave of folk music popularity. The Kingston Trio kicked it off; inspired by The Weavers (including Pete Seeger),  the Trio's success led to the inclusion of a Grammy Award category for best ethnic or traditional folk recording. Other acts that enjoyed success during the folk revival were Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary, and Bob Dylan (who was a fan of Woody Guthrie's songwriting, and vowed to become is greatest disciple).

Folk music in the '60s was about protest, and seeking other ways. The songs were about standing up to the status quo, nuclear disarmament, civil rights, and feminism. The music is widely acknowledged for its storytelling, politicizing, and advocating; yet its popularity began to dwindle as that of rock grew. 

When staff at Room 217 were planning Collections 3 and 4, we sought input from music lovers, supporters of Room 217, music therapists and musicians. Themes began to emerge and it's no surprise that Folkie Folk is one of the albums. The artists and songs helped define a generation.

On the Folkie Folk album you will find Four Strong Winds, Leavin' On a Jet Plane, If You Could Read My Mind, Teach Your Children, We'll Sing in the Sunshine, Blowin' in the Wind, Morning Has Broken, Big Yellow Taxi, Whispering Rain, Where Have all the Flowers Gone, Green Green, Sounds of Silence, If I Had a Hammer, I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles),  and Homeward Bound.  Click on the link to the albums, and you can listen to five samples from this album. 

Although Room 217's music is designed for use in palliative care, there are many applications for it, including sleep promotion, relaxation, and self-care.