Contemporary Folk Music | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Contemporary Folk Music

Folk music, contemporary. The term 'folk' has been applied freely to the music of the 'singer-songwriter' who emerged in the wake of the so-called folk music (or urban folk) revival of the 1940s and 1950s.

The term 'folk' has been applied freely to the music of the 'singer-songwriter' who emerged in the wake of the so-called folk music (or urban folk) revival of the 1940s and 1950s. Typically, artists who employed traditional song forms and performance styles (eg, guitar accompaniment) but worked on a professional basis (in the commercial setting of the coffeehouse and later the nightclub and concert hall) and drew on repertoires of original (and often self-composed) material, came to be described as 'folksingers'. (In French Canada their counterparts were the chansonniers.) Among the Canadians thus-described, beginning in the 1960s, were Bruce Cockburn, Leonard Cohen, Bonnie Dobson, Ian and Sylvia, Gordon Lightfoot, Murray McLauchlan, Joni Mitchell, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and David Wiffen. These, as distinct from the traditional (or source) singers (O.J. Abbott, Tom Brandon, LaRena Clark, Marie Hare, etc) and from the singers who have interpreted the traditional repertoire (eg, Tom Kines, Ed McCurdy and Alan Mills).

The early Mariposa folk festivals reflected this duality with the inclusion in its programs of both the traditional and the new, contemporary folk performers - eg, O.J. Abbott and Ian and Sylvia in 1961, and LaRena Clark and Joni Anderson (Mitchell) in 1965. However, this approximate balance gradually shifted to the point where, in the 1980s, Canada's major 'folk festivals' (Mariposa, Edmonton, Vancouver, Winnipeg, etc) were highly eclectic events whose programming, with its emphasis on 'roots music' - ie, music at the 'root' of contemporary pop, including blues, country, bluegrass, cajun, and folk - stopped not far short of rock and paid little attention to traditional folk performers (who, it must be said, were now of advanced years). Even the Miramichi Folk Festival, established in 1958 expressly for traditional performers, had introduced concerts by the contemporary folk artists John Allan Cameron, Valdy, and others into its programs by the late 1980s.

The singer-songwriters of the 1960s were the first Canadians of their generation to emerge internationally in the pop field. The early success of the songs and/or recordings of Lightfoot, Mitchell, Cohen and the Tysons predated that of, for example, the Guess Who by two or three years, and certainly spoke to the world more eloquently of Canadian sensibilities. Indeed Lightfoot et al, and the singer-songwriters who followed them in the 1970s and 1980s - Holly Arntzen, Willie P. Bennett, Heather Bishop, Bob Bossin and Marie-Lynn Hammond of Stringband, David Bradstreet, Rodney Brown, Bob Carpenter, Tom Cochrane, Teresa Doyle, Willie Dunn, David Essig, Stephen Fearing, Ferron, Roy Forbes, Don Freed, Lennie Gallant, Bill Garrett, Norm Hacking, Tim Harrison, Joe Hall, Ron Hynes, Tom Jackson, Connie Kaldor, James Keelaghan, Terry Kelly, Penny Lang, Doug MacArthur, Rita MacNeil, John Mann and Geoffrey Kelly of Spirit of the West, Ray Materick, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Loreena McKinnett, Scott Merritt, Joe Mock and Rick Scott of Pied Pumpkin, Linda Morrison, Colleen Peterson, Wyckham Porteous, Chris Rawlings, Garnet Rogers, Stan Rogers, Shingoose, Jane Siberry, Bob Snider, Ian Tamblyn, Brent Titcomb, Shari Ulrich, Valdy, Nancy White, etc - have consistently given the clearest voice of all the country's 'pop' performers to the Canadian experience.

By the 1980s, the stylistic basis of the singer-songwriter's work had been blurred if not transmuted as some artists turned to country music (eg, Bennett, McLauchlan, Ian Tyson, and Sylvia Tyson) and others selectively introduced pop elements (eg, Cockburn, Merritt, Siberry, and Ulrich). Some have brought contemporary technology (ie, synthesizers) to traditional forms (Garnet Rogers). Still others have remained relatively loyal to the older traditions, including the veteran Doug MacArthur of London, Ont, and members of the new generation of singer-songwriters that emerged in the 1980s - eg, James Keelaghan of Calgary.

See also Chansonniers, Feminist music, Folk music revival

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