The term American folk music covers a number of music genres, collectively known as traditional folk music. The most common form of this genre is Americana Folk Music, which features more traditional instruments and sounds. It also typically includes traditional blues, jazz, folk, country, and traditional Christmas music. Sometimes the term Americana Folk Music is used to describe modern music that has influenced American music in some way. For instance, folk rock, bluegrass, country western, and many types of rap have become popular in the United States.
In terms of musical structure, Americana Folk Music is very loosely tied together, with a singer writing one or more lyrics, and performing their favorite traditional songs. While some songs may feature only one or two instruments, most songs will feature at least three or four. However, traditionally, a singer would sing only one verse, while the instrumental breaks from the verse melody in the intro to introduce a new line. For example, if a singer sings “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” the verse contains only a refrain, while the instrumental continues in the intro to create a new chorus.
This style of singing is quite similar to traditional music in many ways, but modern speakers tend to use a more eclectic approach to the traditional melodies and rhythms. One of the biggest influences for this style of singing is the traditional American folk songs of the early American Indians. These songs are usually about America’s history, or about American Indian culture in general, but may feature traditional songs about cows, horses, daisies, pine cones, corn, sunflowers, and other objects commonly associated with Americana.
An Americana Folk song is not necessarily a traditional folk song, but can be a blend of traditional European music with traditional Americana. A very well-known example is the old lullaby called “Goodnight, Sleep Tight” by Mary E. Frye, which features an older woman singing in a soft, dreamlike voice while seated on a rocker in her yard. The lyrics tell of things like dreams and love, but the music is distinctly American – it features a simple beat with repetitive guitar licks that sound almost like the lonesome sound of a log burning. Another version of this same song is available as an audio file on several websites, called “sleep tight lillywhite.”
Traditionalists attribute the sound of traditional American folk songs to the influence of European music in the early America. For example, the European melodicism of the nineteenth century was filtered through American folk songs and rhythm. The words of Robertech Wranglin “All I want for Christmas is my little white lies,” from his classic ballad of that title, also owes much, perhaps most, to the influence of European music.
There is also much confusion about American folk music and its relation to the civil rights movement. Some, such as Robert Johnson himself, have said that it is an expression of his white status as well as an effort to record what black Americans were experiencing at the time. But others, most notably with Ella Fitzgerald, insist that both white folk songs and the civil rights movement are actually one and the same.