Beyoncé and her husband, Jay-Z, at the 66th Grammy Awards on Feb. 4, 2024, in Los Angeles.
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images
Her new songs are arriving at a moment when country music’s reputation as overwhelmingly white is finally starting to crack.
Miriam Makeba was the first African to win a Grammy, but only when she partnered with a US star, Harry Belafonte.
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African artists with major US industry support have the advantage - now more than ever.
Jim Croce went from struggling folk musician to chart-topping singer-songwriter.
Charlie Gillett Collection via Getty Images
Jim Croce’s brief time in the national spotlight was enough to put a bevy of songs in heavy rotation on radio stations – and on stage in the hands of a lengthy A-list of fellow musicians.
Gordon Lightfoot’s musical impact expanded beyond Canada and into the United States.
After Gordon Lightfoot’s death, the musician was celebrated for his Canadian-ness. But his legacy is more complex than that, and his influence extends beyond Canada.
Guthrie questioned whether politicians really cared about the public interest – such as the welfare of these veterans demonstrating in front of Congress in 1932.
Senate Historical Office
Folk singer and activist Woody Guthrie actually had thoughts about the national debt – and politicians in general. They’re remarkably apt today.
Gordon Lightfoot was one of Canada’s most renowned folk singers.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Canadian folk singer Gordon Lightfoot passed away on May 1. His legacy includes songs that memorialize tragic shipping disasters and the 1968 Detroit Uprising.
Bob Dylan performing with George Harrison in 1971.
Critic Greil Marcus sees Bob Dylan as constantly rewriting the national songbook. And in his weird, funny new book, Dylan does just that.
Dylan’s complex creative process is unique among contemporary singer-songwriters.
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Because Dylan draws from songs from the past, he has been accused of plagiarism. But this view has been colored by a distorted understanding of the creative process.
His songs about the rights of the Oromo people in Ethiopia lifted the spirits of a downtrodden people and his death shook the nation.
Photo by Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Joni Mitchell’s performance at Newport Folk Festival defied the ‘permissible’ ways older women ‘should’ behave.
AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams
It may seem counter-intuitive to turn to Leonard Cohen’s ‘depressing’ songs during times of grief and uncertainty. But he shows there is always a reason to keep on keeping on.
Calgary performers persist in the face of uncertainty, and use music to voice dissent and to create community.
While some stereotype Alberta as a “conservative” province, the bucking and swift horses that typify the Calgary Stampede speak to a more complex spirit of risk seen in local musicians.
Some of Guthrie’s greatest champions have had difficulties with the song.
Al Aumuller/Library of Congress
Woody Guthrie’s anthem has become a rallying cry for immigrants. But did he really have a ‘blind spot’ for Native Americans, as some have claimed?
Robert Plant, the lead singer of Led Zeppelin, performs in Hamburg, Germany in 1973.
How can a band so slavishly derivative – and sometimes downright plagiaristic – be also considered radically innovative and influential?
Festival-goers relaxing at the ‘Woodfordia’ sign at the Woodford Folk Festival in 2013.
Folk’s emphasis on authenticity and community has renewed appeal in today’s beard-friendly, organic-appreciating culture.
Music fans gather for the Rolling Stones’ ‘Gimme Shelter’ concert at California’s Altamont Speedway in 1969.
Musicians were able to connect with confused, scared and angry Americans – including those who supported the war – in a way actors, broadcasters and writers could not.
Rather than replace humans, AI could actually boost our creativity.
Woody Guthrie’s tenancy in Fred Trump’s Beach Haven apartment complex coincided with a diagnosis of Huntington’s disease.
Library of Congress
‘Trump made a tramp out of me,’ Guthrie lamented, denouncing his landlord who barred black families and pocketed federal funds.
Through his music, Lead Belly rejected the stereotype that country music was the domain of white artists, while blues music was reserved for blacks.
Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection depicts the fully-formed artist – a blues musician, yes, but also a performer of string-band, country and pop songs.
The real value of Lomax’s work is only now becoming clear.
If Alan Lomax were still alive, he would turn 100 Saturday. His name might not be as familiar as some other giants of folk music in the 20th century (such as Pete Seeger). But if you listen to folk or…