Folk Music in The United States


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The Professional Folk Singer                                                    71

exposed its subject. It has caused a boom in the cities, which has in turn reached the country and persuaded the bearers of folk tradition to renew their waning enthusiasm. The purposes of professional folk singers are usually very laudable. The purposes are concerned with fostering a deeper understanding of folk heritage; they are educational and artistic. Too often, however, the professional has been propelled by political and nationalist ideas. In various European countries, especially Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and the Communist governments, folk music has been used to further the desires of the States, to underscore false scientific theories, and for other propaganda aims. Whether the actions of these governments are in themselves acceptable or not, this use of folk music has resulted in widespread misinformation about the nature of folklore and folk culture, and the song material itself has suffered from changes imposed by the state.

The American government has not participated in this subversion of folk music. But among the professional folk singers there are some who have used their material with such aims in mind. The use of folk music by professionals, and its appreciation by wide intellectual audiences, dates from the late 1920's, when songs were used to underscore the movements for social justice and to give emotional appeal to the arguments of labor. Later the use of folk music shifted from the "folks of the left" to those of "the right," and folk song became a patriotic and even nationalistic expression. Some folk singers tried to show the alleged superiority of Anglo-American folk songs as compared to those of other ethnic groups, and Americanization of minority groups via folk music was attempted.

Even when such motives are not involved, as in the majority of cases, it seems to be practically impossible for the professional folk singer to present his songs in a way which gives a true picture of the musical folk culture of the United States. After all, he is singing for the entertainment of an audience. In the folk culture the songs have a function beyond aesthetic enjoyment, but in the city this function is lost, and the folk singer must compete with Beethoven and Hoagy Carmichael for the favors of an audience. It is a sophisticated audience which knows what it wants. And it

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