Folk Music in The United States


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The term "folk music" has been much used and abused in recent years, but it has been endowed with ever-increasing prestige. Indeed, much of the misuse of the term has been caused by a kind of veneration on the part of the public, which has been exploited by some individuals who use folk music in commercial pursuits, finding that their sales increase when the label "folk" is applied to their material. Sometimes they have used the term to cover music which under no honest definition could be accepted as folklore. Some of the confusion has indirectly stemmed from the inability of scholars to find a generally accepted definition.^ I should like to show some of the diversity of opinion regarding such a definition and then adopt one as the basis of our further discussion.

There seem to be two main approaches to defining folk music. One is concerned with the properties of folk music as such, the other with its cultural milieu or background. For some people folk music must sound a certain way, it must be composed in a particular style and any music which conforms to this style is folk music. If one follows the other approach, one accepts as folk music all music produced by a particular group in society, which one calls and defines as the "folk."

Who the people included as "folk" are is something which folklorists have had considerable difficulty deciding, and nothing is better evidence of their lack of unanimity than the many definitions in the Standard Dictionary of Folklore.^ Students of folk

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