Folk singers are an interesting breed of musicians. Whereas the term could have referred simply to singers of folk songs, at least, prior to the 1960s, now the term refers largely to singers of the genre that came out during the folk music revival of the mid-1960s. This may or may not include artists in the folk rock genre, which is a combination of traditional folk music and rock music into a totally different musical style altogether.
Of course, when anybody is asked about the best folk singers, the list will almost automatically be topped by Bob Dylan. This is an interesting phenomenon, considering how folk rock seems to have come about as a result of the release of this style of music by The Byrds, a Los Angeles band. Apparently, Bob Dylan is among the most influential individuals in the history of music. Interestingly, being one of the first to use electric instruments, he was actually bombarded with much criticism in the folk music movement, as it was already part of his leaving behind his folk music background, in a sense. It turned out that his exploration into countless genres has proved beneficial for musical history as a whole.
Folk singers like Dylan, whose lyrics exhibited a mix of social, political, and philosophical influences, actually have a strong influence on the culture of their day. For Dylan, for example, his influence reached up to five decades of impacting popular culture, not just music. Other folk singers that have reached top status include Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez, and Neil Young.
The influence that folk singers have on popular culture can be manifold. How do these musicians and singers have an effect on the culture of a nation?
- The first is that they would influence the way people celebrate and mourn. Music is very much a part of daily life, and having the means to celebrate with music as well as mourn with music is a natural human need.
- Their lyrics become ingrained in the human heart. Music has an interesting hold on the human heart. The lyrics may be memorized in the brain, but the thought and the concepts presented therein become ingrained into the very soul of the person singing it. This is why many people condemn the hatred-based lyrics of some rock music, whereas the light tones of folk music have been commended for being uplifting and generally beneficial for society as a whole.
- Folk singers become authority figures in their own rights. The way that human beings tend to idolize someone who performs well or has received accolades and awards gives popular folk singers a right to comment on just about anything and have people believing them. For example, Dylan has been commended for having a profound impact not just on popular music but on American culture as a whole, citing his “lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.” Perhaps his initial popularity as a folk singer actually contributed to his appeal as, later, a writer, director, and screenwriter.
- Folk singers become like good friends. Human beings tend to hold people who care about them in high regard, and the same can be said for folk singers. This is especially true when the folk singers give them a sense of hope, or something to hold on to when things do not go right. This is an amazing power that singers and songwriters hold: giving hope or making a person feel even more hopeless with the power of word and music.
These are but the main ways that folk singers can be part of the daily life of an individual. These are also the main ways in which singers and musicians can shape the culture of their day, and even extend their influences several generations down the road, particularly with recording capabilities of recent years. This gives us an idea of how important it is to find the best singers to idolize and follow along. In a nutshell, when you find one that gives you hope and tells good news instead of complaining about life, you should be on a good ride, and that singer will likely be deserving of accolades just like many of the popular folk singers like Dylan and the rest!