There is a long history of political protest within music, and this is particularly true of folk music, whose
traditions are in a sense owned by and express the life and times of the common man. This tendency has gradually gained
strength in modern times as freedom of speech has become enshrined within western democracies.
The first distinctive writer within this genre in 20th century America was Aunt Molly Jackson
, whose "Hungry Ragged Blues"
"Poor Miner's Farewell"
are hard-hitting union songs. Several years after those recordings were made the musicologists
and Alan Lomax
uncovered a major talent in Huddie Ledbetter
) serving time in a Louisiana penitentiary.
While not politically motivated, Leadbelly's experiences in the southern States made him passionate about human rights,
and this element within his music influenced Woody Guthrie
and Pete Seeger
in particular, whose powerful output
in turn sparked the folk revival of the 1950's.
Leading players here were The Kingston Trio
, whose versions of Guthrie's "Hard A'int It Hard"
and the Appalachian murder ballad
achieved unprecedented success, bursting the dam on a huge pent-up demand and opening the door for a legion of new performers
and writers, as record companies scoured the country in search of new acts to record. Prominent amongst these legions were Joan Baez, Phil Ochs
and a young boy from Duluth, the poetic genius Bob Dylan
In the wake of Dylan and rock & roll
the musical landscape changed almost beyond recognition, the flame of traditional folk
flickering and dimming with the emergence of folk rock
, the more introspective approach
of contemporary singer / songwriters
, and the increasing use of pop production techniques in folk styles.
But innovative artists with something to say, like Buffy Ste.Marie
, or a different perspective, like French-Canadian sisters Kate & Anna McGarrigle
humour and insight, like Loudon Wainwright III
or John Prine
, an alternative modern view, such as Michelle Shocked
and Shawn Colvin
or just sheer guts and attitude, like Ani Di Franco
, continue to take the tradition forward.