chapter  1
Nineteenth Century Background: Great Britain and the United States
Pages 18

DEFINIT IONS It might appear simple to understand folk music as a form of popular music in the British Isles and the United States with antique roots and anonymous composers. But in order to understand the scope and transformation of folk music through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it is necessary to come up with a broader definition. For example, we will have to include in our story not only the development and collection of old songs, with no known composers, but also labor songs of the nineteenth century broadsides, blues, gospel tunes, cowboy songs, singer/songwriters, such as Donovan and Bob Dylan, who emerged in the 1960s, and so much more. We shall attempt to come up with a narrative history that is all inclusive, but also one that will establish some limits on what should be included or excluded. For example, jazz, opera, and, usually, commercially written popular songs will be excluded. In its traditional form, folk music can be said to include the following attributes: (1) its origins can perhaps be located in a particular culture or region; (2) authorship has historically been unknown,

over the (3) it has traditionally been performed by nonprofessionals, perhaps playing acoustic instruments; (4) its composition has been fairly simple, with perhaps little complexity so that it can be performed and shared communally; and (5) the songs have historically been passed down through oral transmission. This has somewhat changed, particularly if we include the rise of the cheap print media, and, in the twentieth century, the introduction of phonograph records, radio and television shows, films, and concerts. That is, folk music has been the music of the people, broadly construed, although this might seem too simplistic.