keywords: folk music, folk musician, folk musicians, folksongs, folksong, folk songs, folk artists, folksinger, folk singer, folk singers, folksingers, folk guitarist, folk guitarists
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by Charles H. Smith, Ph.D.

I have seen several lists of this type posted on the Internet by well-meaning but sometimes agenda-driven individuals, so I thought I would take a shot at this myself, consulting some hard data along the way.  I have a long and continuing interest in folk music going back to the early 1960s, when my older sister started buying Peter, Paul & Mary albums.  For many years I purchased related material for the library collection at the University where I work (see notes here, including further links), and some years back opened a website featuring the lyrics of the fondly remembered topical and children's songs writer, Malvina Reynolds.  I also maintain a site called "The Classical Music Navigator", and have a lot of experience in statistical analysis. (See my homepage for contact and other information.)

Please read THESE NOTES before proceeding to the list, at the possible risk of assuming a number of things about this compilation that were not intended!

Following below is the ranked list of 111--with a few "honorable mentions" to add up to an even 150 thrown in at the end.  In the main list, the artist's name is linked to, first: (1) a leading website concerned with them (in red) and (2) their Wikipedia entry (in purple); then two pieces of information in parentheses: (3) f.r.:  "folkie rating" (on scale of 1 [least] to 5 [most], my subjective rating of how "folky" the artist is), and (4) y(es)/n(o) (has or doesn't have individual entry in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians); then, as appropriate, (5) some representative compositions or recordings by the artist (in blue) and (6) related and pages (in green); and finally, (7) a rough list of the artist's main genres, indexed by the following asterisk-with-two-letter coding (in orange) that can be used to search across artists by plugging the codes into your browser's "Edit > Find" function:

*ac alt-country  *af alt-folk  *bl blues  *ce Celtic  *cf contemporary folk  *ff folk revival/traditional folk  *fj folk-jazz fusion  *fp folk-pop
*fr folk-rock  *mi master instrumentalists  *mv master vocalists  *na New Age  *pf folk-punk  *ss singer-songwriter  *tf topical/political folk

* Special Note for Librarians * 

*                    *                    *                    *

1. Woody Guthrie (1912-1967)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 5; y). Woody represents the point at which the "folk tradition" in music (which we had had for many years before him) became dominantly transmitted through songs associated with particular individuals:  'Goin' Down the Road Feelin' Bad,' 'This Land is Your Land,' 'Pretty Boy Floyd,' 'Pastures of Plenty,' 'I Ain't Got No Home,' 'So Long It's Been Good to Know Ya,' 'Tom Joad,' 'Reuben James,' 'Deportee,' 'Hobo's Lullaby,' 'Take a Whiff on Me,' 'Union Maid,' Dust Bowl Ballads videos  *ff *ss *tf

2. Bob Dylan (1941-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; y). Dylan followed Guthrie's lead but marched a step further: into a literary realm in which folk song became high art:  'Blowin' in the Wind,' 'It Ain't Me Babe,' 'Don't Think Twice It's All Right,' 'The Times They Are a-Changin,' 'Masters of War,' 'Mr. Tambourine Man,' 'Like a Rolling Stone,' 'If Not For You,' 'Just Like a Woman,' 'All Along the Watchtower,' 'My Back Pages,' 'Hurricane,' Highway 61 Revisited, Nashville Skyline, John Wesley Harding, Blood on the Tracks, Blonde on Blonde, Modern Times videos  *cf *fr *ss *tf

3. Pete Seeger (1919-2014)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 5; y). Friend and disciple of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger went on to become king of the protest song, especially as related to environmental issues:  'Where Have All the Flowers Gone?', 'The Bells of Rhymney,' 'We Shall Overcome,' 'Little Boxes,' 'Turn Turn Turn,' 'If I Had a Hammer,' 'Waist Deep in the Big Muddy' videos  *cf *ff *ss *tf

4. The Weavers  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 5; n). Although perhaps not technically the first folk music "supergroup," their collective influence was to create the first mass public appetite for folk music:  'Goodnight Irene,' 'Wimoweh,' 'Wreck of the John B,' 'On Top of Old Smokey,' 'Wasn't That a Time?', 'Kisses Sweeter Than Wine,' The Weavers at Carnegie Hall videos  *cf *ff *fp *tf

5. Joan Baez (1941-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 5; y). Possessor of just about the most beautiful voice ever to express poignant thoughts:  'We Shall Overcome,' 'Love Is Just a Four Letter Word,' 'There But for Fortune,' 'The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,' 'Diamonds and Rust,' Joan Baez videos  *cf *ff *mv *tf

6. Peter (1938-), Paul (1937-) and Mary (1937-2009)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 5; n). The group that found a way to focus "folk energy" in a manner appealing to a large--and paying--audience:  'Blowin' in the Wind,' 'Where Have All the Flowers gone?', '500 Miles,' 'If I Had a Hammer,' 'Puff the Magic Dragon,' 'Leaving on a Jet Plane,' Peter Paul and Mary, In the Wind videos  *cf *ff *fp *mv *tf

7. Joni Mitchell (1943-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 3; y). Mitchell's brilliance as a songwriter, singer, and guitarist focused further attention on the role of folk singer as intellectual, raconteur, and artiste:  'The Circle Game,' 'Both Sides Now,' 'Big Yellow Taxi,' 'Chelsea Morning,' 'Woodstock,' 'A Case of You,' 'Urge for Going,' Clouds, Court and Spark, Ladies of the Canyon, Blue videos  *cf *fj *fp *ss

8. Kingston Trio  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 5; n). In the late 1950s and early 1960s revival period this was one of the most popular folk acts, trading in conventional arrangements of both traditional and new material, and reaching a broad audience:  'Scotch and Soda,' 'Greenback Dollar,' 'M. T. A.,' 'Tom Dooley,' 'Where Have All the Flowers Gone?', The Kingston Trio, The Kingston Trio At Large, Sold Out videos  *cf *ff *tf

9. Simon (1941-) and Garfunkel (1941-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; y). Paul Simon's genius as a songwriter and Art Garfunkel's vocal skills rocketed S & G to the greatest commercial success ever attained by a folk act:  'The Sounds of Silence,' 'Homeward Bound,' 'The Boxer,' 'El Condor Pasa,' 'Bridge Over Troubled Water,' 'American Tune,' 'America,' 'Scarborough Fair,' Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, Bookends, Bridge Over Troubled Water videos  *cf *fp *fr *mv *ss

10. Lead Belly (1888-1949)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; y). The legendary folk and blues performer who inspired many of the top white folk music performers of the 1940s and 1950s:  'Goodnight Irene,' 'Cotton Fields,' 'Where Did You Sleep Last Night?', 'Pick a Bale of Cotton,' 'Midnight Special,' 'Gallows Pole,' 'Rock Island Line' videos  *bl *ff *mi *tf

11. Odetta (1930-2008)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 5; n). From the 1950s on, one of the most authentic and respected voices in the world of folk:  'Motherless Children,' 'Amazing Grace,' 'This Little Light of Mine,' 'You Don't Know My Mind,' Ballads and Blues, At the Gate of Horn, Odetta at Town Hall, Movin' On videos  *bl *ff *mv *tf

12. Doc Watson (1923-2012)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 3; n). The country folks might also claim Doc Watson for their own, but his forte was always authentic voice and guitar-featuring performances of traditional material:  'Tennessee Stud,' 'Deep River Blues,' 'Black Mountain Rag,' 'Shady Grove,' 'Wabash Cannonball,' The Watson Family, Memories, Then and Now, Doc Watson, Southbound videos  *ff *mi

13. Judy Collins (1939-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; y). Collins's beautiful, soothing voice and intelligent interpretations introduced many a fan to the up-and-coming songwriters of the 60s:  'Both Sides Now,' 'Suzanne,' 'In My Life,' 'Amazing Grace,' 'Someday Soon,' 'Send in the Clowns,' In My Life, Fifth Album, Who Knows Where the Time Goes? videos  *cf *ff *fp *mv

14. The Byrds  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 2; y). In early 1965 the Byrds took listeners by storm with a new brand of pop music--folk-rock--but a year later veered in the direction of country-rock:  'Mr. Tambourine Man,' 'Chimes of Freedom,' 'All I Really Want to Do,' 'Turn Turn Turn,' 'I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better,' 'You Ain't Going Nowhere,' 'Chestnut Mare,' 'My Back Pages,' 'Ballad of Easy Rider,' Sweetheart of the Rodeo videos  *fp *fr

15. Fairport Convention  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 3; y). Over several decades, the leading exemplar of the term "folk rock":  'Matty Groves,' 'Meet on the Ledge,' 'Fotheringay,' 'Crazy Man Michael,' 'Tam Lin,' Liege & Lief, Full House, What We Did on Our Holidays videos  *cf *fp *fr *mi

16. Neil Young (1945-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 3; y). Young's career as an explorative and committed folk-rocker now spans five decades, and he's still not showing any signs of rusting out:  'Sugar Mountain,' 'Southern Man,' 'Broken Arrow,' 'Down By the River,' 'Old Man,' 'Heart of Gold,' 'Ohio,' 'Helpless,' 'Only Love Can Break Your Heart,' After the Gold Rush, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Harvest, Rust Never Sleeps videos  *af *cf *fr *ss *tf

17. Phil Ochs (1940-1976)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 5; y). The quintessential 60s folk singer/songwriter, with a penchant for liberal values and bare-nerved social criticism:  'I Ain't Marching Anymore,' 'Power and the Glory,' 'The Crucifixion,' 'Draft Dodger Rag,' 'Outside of a Small Circle of Friends,' 'Changes,' 'The Highwayman,' 'When I'm Gone,' 'Links on the Chain,' 'There But for Fortune,' 'Pleasures of the Harbor,' All the News That's Fit to Sing videos  *cf *ss *tf

18. The Everly Brothers  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 2; y). The brothers Phil and Don set a standard for vocal performance of traditional and folk-like material that has never been surpassed, or possibly even equaled:  'Wake Up Little Susie,' 'Let It Be Me,' 'Bye Bye Love,' 'All I Have to Do Is Dream,' 'Devoted to You,' 'Bird Dog,' 'Cathy's Clown' videos  *fp *mv

19. Donovan (1946-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 3; n). Initially a Guthrie-style folkie, Donovan Leitch branched out to create a commercially and creatively successful form of folk-pop that embraced psychedelia, jazz, lore, and myth:  'Catch the Wind,' 'Colours,' 'Sunshine Superman,' 'Universal Soldier,' 'Lalena,' 'Season of the Witch,' 'Hurdy Gurdy Man,' 'Atlantis,' 'There Is a Mountain,' A Gift From a Flower to a Garden, Sunshine Superman videos  *ce *cf *fj *fp *fr *na *ss *tf

20. Jimmie Rodgers (1897-1933)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 2; y). Although viewed more as a direct line father of modern country music, nearly equally an influence on the development of American folk styles, especially through such figures as Woody Guthrie and Ramblin' Jack Elliott:  'T for Texas,' 'Blue Yodel Number 2,' 'Waiting For a Train,' 'Standing on the Corner,' 'Mule Skinner Blues,' 'In the Jailhouse Now,' 'T.B. Blues' videos  *bl *ff

21. John Fahey (1939-2001)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 2; n). Though not truly a folkie, this quirky instrumentalist remained true to his root influences while inspiring a whole generation of guitarists:  'In Christ There Is No East Nor West,' 'Sunflower River Blues,' 'Sligo River Blues,' The Voice of the Turtle, The Yellow Princess, The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death, The New Possibility--Christmas Album, Blind Joe Death videos  *af *bl *ff *mi

22. The Carter Family  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 2; y). Over the middle half of the twentieth century, the Carters were perhaps the most successful and influential popularizers of rural traditional and country forms:  'The Wildwood Flower,' 'Wabash Cannonball,' 'Will the Circle Go Unbroken?', 'Keep on the Sunny Side,' 'Single Girl Married Girl' videos  *ff *mv

23. Gordon Lightfoot (1938-2023)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; n). Since he first broke through with 'Early Morning Rain' in the early 60s, Lightfoot has been the most recognized name in Canadian folk circles:  'If You Could Read My Mind,' 'Rainy Day People,' 'Sundown,' 'The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,' 'Canadian Railroad Trilogy,' 'For Lovin' Me,' Lightfoot! videos  *cf *fp *ss

24. Arlo Guthrie (1947-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; n). Since the days of 'Alice's Restaurant Massacree,' one of America's most representative--and beloved--folkies:  'City of New Orleans,' 'The Motorcycle Song,' Amigo, Alice's Restaurant, Hobo's Lullaby videos  *af *cf *fr *tf

25. Alan Stivell (1944-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; n). Famous just about everywhere except in the U. S., this harp-playing native of the Breton region of France almost single-handedly engineered the worldwide late twentieth century Celtic music revival:  Renaissance de la Harpe Celtique, Harpes du Nouvel Age, Symphonie Celtique, A l'Olympia videos  *ce *cf *ff *fj *fr *mi *na

26. Bert Jansch (1943-2011)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; y). Though little known in the U. S., Pentangle leader Jansch's international influence as a folk guitar stylist--and on the contemporary folk movement in Britain in general--was phenomenal:  'Needle of Death,' 'Blackwaterside,' 'Angie,' Bert Jansch, Jack Orion, Rosemary Lane, The Black Swan videos  *bl *cf *fj *fr *mi *ss *tf

27. Pentangle  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 3; y). The most inventive and virtuostic string band of their time, Pentangle explored the connections between folk and jazz, blues, and early music:  'Light Flight,' The Pentangle, Basket of Light, Cruel Sister, Sweet Child, Reflection videos  *af *fj *mi

28. Richard Thompson (1949-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 3; y). After leaving Fairport Convention, Thompson really came into his own as a leading singer, songwriter, and electric and acoustic guitarist:  'Beeswing,' '1952 Vincent Black Lightning,' 'I Misunderstood,' 'Meet on the Ledge,' Shoot Out the Lights, Mock Tudor, Rumor and Sigh videos  *af *cf *fr *mi *ss *tf

29. Nick Drake (1948-1974)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; n). Little more than ignored in his own time, Drake's brooding, introspective music eventually caught on years after his accidental death in 1974:  'Day Is Done,' 'Time Has Told Me,' 'River Man,' 'Pink Moon,' Bryter Later, Five Leaves Left, Pink Moon videos  *af *cf *fj *ss

30. Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 2; y). Master of word and image, Canadian Cohen was the poet laureate of the contemporary folk scene:  'Suzanne,' 'Famous Blue Raincoat,' 'Everybody Knows,' 'Hallelujah,' 'Bird on a Wire' videos  *af *cf *fj *ss

31. Crosby (1941-2023), Stills (1945-) and Nash (1942-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 1; y). Adroitly plying the waters of pop, rock, and folk, CSN produced beautiful performances of solidly composed "folk-like" material:  'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,' 'Ohio,' 'Teach Your Children,' 'Our House,' 'Carry On,' 'Woodstock,' Crosby, Stills & Nash, Deja Vu videos  *fp *fr *mv *ss *tf

32. The New Lost City Ramblers  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 5; n). Led by Mike Seeger, the Ramblers were/are (they have never officially disbanded) the leading string band revivalist act, since the late 1950s introducing new generations to the traditional music of earlier times:  The Early Years, Old Time Music, There Ain't No Way Out videos  *ff

33. John Denver (1943-1997)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 1; n). Pop star Denver was one-third folkie, one-third country boy, and one-third romantic idealist:  'Take Me Home Country Roads,' 'Rocky Mountain High,' 'Thank God I'm a Country Boy,' 'Leaving on a Jet Plane,' 'Annie's Song' videos  *cf *fp *ss

34. Ewan MacColl (1915-1989)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; y). Activist MacColl wrote songs and plays, collected and (brilliantly) sang traditional material, and overall earned a place in mid-twentieth century history as Britain's foremost figure in the world of folk:  'The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,' 'Dirty Old Town,' 'My Old Man,' 'Moving On Song,' 'Joy of Living,' 'The Shoals of Herring,' 'Sweet Thames Flow Softly,' The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, Broadside Ballads videos  *cf *ff *mv *ss *tf

35. Ramblin' Jack Elliott (1931-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 5; n). No one even comes close to doing "folk singer" as well as Jack does!:  'Pretty Boy Floyd,' Sings the Songs of Woody Guthrie, South Coast, The Essential, America videos  *cf *ff

36. The Chieftains  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 5; n). The Chieftains have been keepers of the flame of Irish traditional music for what seems like forever:  'The Foggy Dew,' 'Women of Ireland,' The Long Black Veil, Irish Heartbeat, The Chieftains 4 videos  *cf *ff *mi

37. Tom Paxton (1937-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 5; n). Contemporary folk singer-songwriter par excellence Paxton has turned increasingly to the world of children's (folk) music:  'Bottle of Wine,' 'What Did You Learn in School Today?', 'I Can't Help but Wonder Where I'm Bound,' 'The Last Thing on My Mind,' 'Ramblin Boy,' 'The Marvelous Toy,' 'Talking Vietnam Potluck Blues' videos  *cf *ss *tf

38. John Prine (1946-2020)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 3; n). Singer-songwriter Prine typically performed his contemporary folk-like compositions with a wink, in the mood of an ambling walk down a country lane:  'Paradise,' 'Grandpa Was a Carpenter,' 'Hello in There,' 'In Spite of Ourselves,' 'Illegal Smile,' 'Angel From Montgomery,' 'That's the Way the World Goes 'Round,' 'Sam Stone,' John Prine, The Missing Years, Fair and Square videos  *ac *af *cf *ss *tf

39. Clannad  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; n). The leading band of the Celtic music revival, as well as a significant influence on the development of so-called "New Age" music:  'Theme From Harry's Game,' 'I Will Find You,' Magical Ring, Anam, Clannad videos  *ce *na

40. June Tabor (1947-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; y). Tabor's dark rich voice has made her her generation's leading British traditional songs stylist:  'And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda,' Silly Sisters, Abyssinians, Airs and Graces, A Cut Above, An Echo of Hooves videos  *cf *ff *fj *mv

41. Stan Rogers (1949-1983)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; n). But for his untimely death in an airplane fire in 1983, by now Rogers almost certainly would have reached the highest levels of fame within folk circles:  '45 Years,' 'Barrett's Privateers,' 'The Mary Ellen Carter,' 'White Squall,' 'The Field Behind the Plow,' Fogarty's Cove, From Fresh Water, Northwest Passage videos  *cf *mv *ss

42. Steeleye Span  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; y). Steeleye Span's clever arrangements of traditional material have made them an enduring favorite among British folk fans:  'Gaudete,' 'King Henry,' 'The Blacksmith,' 'When I Was on Horseback,' 'All Around My Hat,' Below the Salt, Parcel of Rogues videos  *cf *ff *fp *fr

43. Sandy Denny (1947-1978)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 3; y). Folk/folk-rock lost its leading female singer-songwriter prematurely when Denny died after an accident at the age of 31:  'Who Knows Where the Time Goes?', 'Fotheringay,' 'John the Gun' videos  *cf *fr *mv *ss

44. Harry Belafonte (1927-2023)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 3; y). Perhaps most associated with calypso music styles of the 50s and 60s protest music, Belafonte has recorded all kinds of folk-related material over his career:  'The Banana Boat Song,' 'Matilda,' 'Jamaica Farewell,' Calypso videos  *cf *ff *fp *mv *tf

45. Josh White (1908-1969)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; y). Singer-guitarist White was a key player in first the blues, then folk-revival scenes in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, influencing figures ranging from Ray Charles to Don McLean and The Animals:  'House of the Rising Sun,' 'Careless Love,' 'St. James Infirmary,' 'One Meat Ball' videos  *bl *ff

46. Sweet Honey in the Rock  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; n). Bernice Johnson Reagon (1942-)'s a cappella ensemble, embracing topical and traditional themes alike, has been active for over thirty years:  'I Got Shoes,' 'We Are,' 'Emergency,' Still the Same Me, I Got Shoes, Live at Carnegie Hall videos  *bl *cf *fj *tf

47. James Taylor (1948-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 1; y). Taylor's emotionally plaintive voice continues to endear him to the folk community, even as his material selections move him further and further into MOR:  'Fire and Rain,' 'How Sweet It Is,' 'Carolina in My Mind,' 'You've Got a Friend,' Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon, Sweet Baby James videos  *cf *fp *ss

48. Martin Carthy (1941-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 5; y). Collector, singer, and acoustic guitarist extraordinaire, one of the leading figures in the English folk revival:  'The Famous Flower of Serving Men,' 'Scarborough Fair,' Byker Hill, Martin Carthy videos  *cf *ff *mi

49. Townes Van Zandt (1944-1997)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 1; n). Perhaps more a country artist than a folkie, the late Townes Van Zandt ranked as one of our finest singer-songwriters:  'Pancho and Lefty,' 'None But the Rain,' 'Waiting Around to Die,' 'Tecumseh Valley,' 'To Live's to Fly,' 'If I Needed You,' Live at the Old Quarter, The Late Great Townes Van Zandt videos  *ac *cf *ss

50. The Almanac Singers  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 5; n). This informal group including Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Lee Hays lasted only a couple of years in the early 1940s, but one can point to their union as a legitimate starting point of the twentieth century's "contemporary folk" movement:  'Talking Union,' 'Union Maid,' Talking Union, Songs for John Doe videos  *cf *ff *tf

51. Kate (1946-2010) and Anna (1944-) McGarrigle  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 3; n). Tight harmonies and smartly crafted songs characterized the work of this highly regarded bi-lingual Canadian duo:  'Heart Like a Wheel,' 'Talk of Me of Mendocino,' 'NaCl (Sodium Chloride),' 'My Town,' Kate & Anna McGarrigle, French Record, Dancer With Bruised Knees videos  *cf *ss

52. Loreena McKennitt (1957-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 2; n). She of Canadian nationality, Celtic and rock sensibilities, and Barbra Streisand-class voice:  'Mummers' Dance,' 'All Souls Night,' 'Bonny Portmore,' 'Night Ride Across the Caucasus,' 'The Lady of Shalott,' An Ancient Muse, The Visit, The Mask and the Mirror, The Book of Secrets videos  *ce *fr *mv *na

53. Suzanne Vega (1959-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; n). The break-through figure in the "New Folk" movement of the 80s:  'Tom's Diner,' 'Luka,' Suzanne Vega, Solitude Standing videos  *af *cf *fr *ss

54. Loudon Wainwright III (1946-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 3; n). Sly, wry, or sometimes just plain silly, singer-songwriter Wainwright alternately makes us laugh and cry:  'Dead Skunk,' 'Red Guitar,' 'Swimming Song,' Album III, More Love Songs, Last Man on Earth, I'm Alright videos  *cf *ss

55. Ralph McTell (1944-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; n). One of the top tunesmiths and songwriter-guitarists of the contemporary folk genre:  'Streets of London,' 'Gypsy,' 'From Clare to Here,' 'Zig Zag Line,' 'First Song,' You Well Meaning Brought Me Here, Easy, Not Till Tomorrow videos  *cf *mi *ss

56. Tracy Chapman (1964-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; n). One of the stars of the "New Folk" generation, with the flexibility of delivery to cross over to pop and rock at will:  'Fast Car,' 'Give Me One Reason,' 'Talkin Bout a Revolution,' Tracy Chapman, Crossroads, New Beginning videos  *af *ss *tf

57. The Seekers  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; n). While the Byrds were inventing folk rock, the Seekers were the number one act of 1965 in the British charts, showing the way from Peter Paul and Mary to the folk pop of Simon and Garfunkel and the Mamas and the Papas:  'I'll Never Find Another You,' 'A World of Our Own,' 'The Carnival Is Over,' 'Morningtown Ride,' 'Georgy Girl' videos  *ff *fp *mv

58. Gillian Welch (1967-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 3; n). Relative newcomer Gillian Welch has quickly risen to the top of the current generation of tradition-oriented roots performers:  'Wrecking Ball,' Time (The Revelator), Soul Journey, Revival videos  *ac *ss

59. Tim Hardin (1941-1980)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; n). A great songwriter and emotional singer, Hardin was another of the stable of 60s/70s folkies who couldn't quite gather the will to survive that era:  'If I Were a Carpenter,' 'Simple Song of Freedom,' 'Reason to Believe,' 'Misty Roses' videos  *cf *mv *ss

60. Leo Kottke (1945-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; n). John Fahey's most famous disciple, singer/songwriter/instrumentalist Kottke has long been known as the king of the twelve-string:  Six and Twelve-String Guitar, Greenhouse, Leo Kottke Anthology videos  *cf *mi

61. The Clancy Brothers (and Tommy Makem)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 5; n). Another legendary band from the Irish folk tradition:  'The Jug of Punch,' 'Brennan on the Moor,' The Rising of the Moon, Come Fill Your Glass With Us videos  *ce *ff

62. Buffy Sainte-Marie (1941-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; n). Canadian First Nations-born singer-songwriter Sainte-Marie has had a long and successful career both within music, and beyond:  'Until It's Time for You to Go,' 'Soldier Blue,' 'Co'dine,' 'Universal Soldier,' 'Up Where We Belong,' It's My Way! videos  *cf *ss *tf

63. The Band  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 2; y). Led by the irrepressible Robbie Robertson (1943-), The Band moved folk rock back in the direction of roots music:  'The Weight,' 'Chest Fever,' 'The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,' 'Up On Cripple Creek,' 'I Shall Be Released,' The Band, Music From Big Pink videos  *fr

64. Steve Goodman (1948-1984)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 3; n). Singer-songwriter Goodman died young (from leukemia), but left us with 'The City of New Orleans' and other treasures:  'You Never Even Call Me By My Name,' 'The Lincoln Park Pirates,' 'Chicken Cordon Bleus,' 'A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request,' 'My Old Man,' 'The Dutchman,' Unfinished Business, Steve Goodman videos  *cf *ss

65. Kate Wolf (1942-1986)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 3; n). A singer-songwriter of rare compassion whose early death, also from leukemia, robbed both the folk and women's music communities of a top talent:  'Give Yourself to Love,' 'Across the Great Divide,' 'Eyes of a Painter,' 'Redtail Hawk,' Give Yourself to Love, Close to You, Gold in California videos  *cf *ss

66. Hazel Dickens (1935-2011)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; n). Dickens' high-pitched "mountain" singing voice and authentic song writing supported her various successful forays into bluegrass, honky-tonk, traditional folk, and roots country:  'Mama's Hand,' Hazel & Alice, It's Hard to Tell the Singer From the Song, Heart of a Singer, By the Sweat of My Brow videos  *ac *ff *tf

67. Elizabeth 'Libba' Cotten (1893-1987)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 5; n). An ageless folk performer whose songwriting and country blues guitar-playing talents made her an influential favorite in the 50s and 60s:  'Freight Train,' 'Shake Sugaree,' 'Ain't Got No Honey Baby Now' videos  *bl *ff *mi

68. Taj Mahal (1942-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 3; n). Over his five-decade-long career Taj Mahal has traversed the worlds of blues, jazz, folk, and international music with equal skill and success:  'Take a Giant Step,' 'Queen Bee,' 'Statesboro Blues,' 'Fishin' Blues,' Giant Step, The Source, Phantom Blues videos  *ff *fj

69. Bruce 'Utah' Phillips (1935-2008)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 5; n). A classic American contemporary topical folkie and storyteller following in the footsteps of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Malvina Reynolds:  'The Telling Takes Me Home,' 'Hallelujah I'm a Bum!,' 'Goodnight-Loving Trail,' 'Green Rolling Hills,' 'Rock Salt & Nails,' 'Bread and Roses,' 'Moose Turd Pie,' Good Though videos  *cf *tf

70. Dave Van Ronk (1936-2002)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; n). Van Ronk's roots were in the blues, but his best known efforts fall more within the contemporary folk and singer-songwriter realms:  'Would You Like to Swing on a Star?', 'St. James Infirmary,' 'Cocaine Blues,' 'Sunday Street,' Folksinger videos  *bl *cf *ff *mi *tf

71. Christy Moore (1945-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; n). In the world of politically-motivated folk music, Moore is one of the top guns:  'Ordinary Man,' 'Ride On,' 'Black Is the Colour,' 'Go, Move, Shift,' Christy Moore, Ride On videos  *ce *cf *tf

72. The Roches  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 2; n). Suburban punk-rock folk is the Roches' forte, but from that starting point they've stepped out to explore a dozen other musical directions:  'We,' 'Hammond Song,' 'Mr. Sellack,' 'Hallelujah Chorus,' 'On the Road to Fairfax County,' 'The Married Men,' The Roches videos  *af *cf *fj *mv *pf

73. Nanci Griffith (1954-2021)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 2; n). Sweet-voiced Nanci Griffith sang and wrote wistful songs that appeal to both country and contemporary folk audiences:  'Love at the Five and Dime,' 'From a Distance,' 'Once in a Very Blue Moon,' 'Trouble in the Fields,' Last of the True Believers, Other Voices Other Rooms, Lone Star State of Mind videos  *ac *cf *ss

74. John Renbourn (1944-2015)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; y). Renbourn's virtuostic blending of folk, blues, and early classical music made him one of the world's top guitar stylists for fifty years:  Sir John Alot..., Traveller's Prayer, The Lady and the Unicorn, Wheel of Fortune videos  *cf *tf *fj *mi

75. Tim Buckley (1947-1975)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 2; n). The early death of Tim Buckley was perhaps presaged in the surreal lyrics to his most celebrated song, 'Morning Glory.'  'Song to the Siren,' 'I Must Have Been Blind,' Goodbye and Hello, Happy Sad videos  *cf *fj *mv *ss

76. Bruce Cockburn (1945-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 3; n). Canadian singer-songwriter-instrumentalist Cockburn doesn't shy away from the label "leftist":  'Wondering Where the Lions Are,' 'Lovers in a Dangerous Time,' 'All the Diamonds in the World,' 'If I Had a Rocket Launcher,' Dancing in the Dragon's Jaws, Stealing Fire videos  *cf *fr *ss *tf

77. Greg Brown (1949-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; n). Gruff-voiced Greg Brown has made a reputation writing elegantly picture-perfect songs on the "little" things in life:  'Who Woulda Thunk It,' 'If I Had Known,' 'Canned Goods,' 'In the Dark with You,' Slant 6 Mind, Further In videos  *cf *ss

78. Davey Graham (1940-2008)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; n). Gifted acoustic guitarist Graham was one of the least-known, most underrated--and most important--movers in the early development of both world music and the British Soho folk scene:  'Anji,' 'She Moved Through the Fair,' Folk Roots New Routes, Folk Blues & Beyond videos  *bl *cf *fj *mi

79. Maddy Prior (1947-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; y). Possessor of one of folk music's most outstanding voices and for many years leader of Steeleye Span, Prior is also an important collector/interpreter: Silly Sisters, Summer Solstice videos  *cf *ff *fp *mv

80. Altan  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 5; n). Celebrated for the way they feature Donegal fiddle-playing and Gaelic songs, Altan has been a top Irish folk act for over twenty years:  Horse With a Heart, Local Ground, Harvest Storm videos  *ce *ff

81. The Brothers Four  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 5; n). An important vocal group from the 1960s folk revival days:  'Greenfields,' 'Try to Remember,' 'Green Leaves of Summer' videos  *ff

82. Richie Havens (1941-2013)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; n). The husky voice of Richie Havens brilliantly combined what seem to be diametrically opposed qualities: roughness and tenderness:  'Here Comes the Sun,' 'Freedom,' 'Just Like a Woman,' Mixed Bag videos  *cf *fj *fp

83. Joan Armatrading (1950-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 1; y). West Indian by birth then English by adoption, Armatrading's unmistakable voice and solid material guarantees her a continuing fanbase:  'Love and Affection,' Joan Armatrading, Me Myself I, Into the Blues videos  *fj *fp *ss

84. Michelle Shocked (1962-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; n). Shocked took the music world by storm in the late 80s, then settled back into a lower-key career as an activist singer-songwriter:  'Anchorage,' Kind Hearted Woman, Arkansas Traveler, The Texas Campfire Tapes videos  *af *cf *ss *tf

85. Mike Seeger (1933-2009)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 5; y). Half-brother of Pete Seeger and leader of the New Lost City Ramblers, Mike Seeger was a leading custodian of the authentic folk tradition:  True Vine, Retrograss videos  *ff

86. Cisco Houston (1918-1961)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 5; n). An itinerant traveling troubadour of the Jack Elliott/Woody Guthrie mold active in the 30s, 40s and 50s, before cancer silenced him at the age of 42 in 1961:  Best of the Vanguard Years, The Folkways Years 1944-1961 videos  *ff *tf

87. Ani DiFranco (1970-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 2; n). A highly successful singer-songwriter from the "New Folk" generation, with just enough grit and punk in her bag to have successfully crossed over into commercial pop:  'Little Plastic Castle,' 'Untouchable Face,' 'You Had Time,' Not a Pretty Girl, Puddle Dive videos  *af *pf *ss *tf

88. Mississippi John Hurt (1893-1966)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 2; y). Hurt had two careers: one back in the early twentieth century as a light country blues guitar man, and one during the 60s as a "rediscovered" inspiration to the new generation:  'Satisfied and Tickled Too,' 'Avalon Blues,' 'Poor Boy Long Ways From Home,' 'Candy Man Blues' videos  *bl *ff *mi

89. The Pogues  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 2; n). Whether you think of them as folk rock or Celtic punk, The Pogues have been responsible for a lot of genre limits-stretching in their time:  'Dirty Old Town,' 'Fairytale of New York,' Peace and Love, If I Should Fall From Grace With God videos  *af *fr *pf *tf

90. Ian (1933-2022) and Sylvia (1940-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 5; n). The stylistically influential Canadian folk duo also known for the folk classics 'Four Strong Winds' and 'You Were on My Mind.' videos  *cf *ff *ss

91. Patty Griffin (1964-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 3; n). Griffin's star is still on the rise; a brilliant songwriter with a strong voice, she moves effortlessly from folk to folk rock to alt-country:  'Let Him Fly,' 'Top of the World,' 'Mary,' Living With Ghosts, 1000 Kisses videos  *ac *af *fp *ss

92. A. L. "Bert" Lloyd (1908-1982)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 5; y). Lloyd was a key figure in the British folk revival both as a singer and as a collector of materials, especially from the maritime tradition:  Blow Boys Blow, English Drinking Songs videos  *ff

93. Jean Ritchie (1922-2015)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 5; n). Dulcimer virtuoso and traditional singer Ritchie was an American folk treasure:  'Shady Grove,' Carols for All Seasons, Jean Ritchie and Doc Watson at Folk City, Ballads videos  *ff *mi

94. John Martyn (1948-2009)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 3; y). From his origins as a hotshot acoustic guitarist in the Soho days of British folk, Martyn evolved an eclectic style bordering on blues or jazz:  'May You Never,' 'Couldn't Love You More,' 'Solid Air,' 'Don't Wanna Know,' On the Cobbles, Solid Air, One World videos  *bl *cf *fj *mi *ss

95. Janis Ian (1951-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 3; n). Even before her hits 'Society's Child' and 'At Seventeen' Ian was well known to the folk community, having published topical songs in major venues by the age of thirteen:  'Jesse,' 'Fly Too High,' Between the Lines, Aftertones videos  *cf *fp *ss *tf

96. Buffalo Springfield  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 2; y). A short-lived supergroup whose individual members would go on to make fundamental contributions to the development of folk- and country-rock:  'For What It's Worth,' 'Bluebird,' 'Broken Arrow,' 'Expecting to Fly,' Buffalo Springfield Again videos  *fr

97. Dar Williams (1967-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 3; n). Williams has gathered a large following by writing sensitive songs shunning celebrity and crediting who she terms "the real heroes" in our lives:  'The Christians and the Pagans,' 'When I Was a Boy,' Mortal City, Cry Cry Cry videos  *cf *fp *ss

98. Tom Rush (1941-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r: 4; n). Handsome and smooth-voiced, Rush proved an ideal interpreter of other folkies' material in the 60s and 70s, and was a good songwriter to boot:  'No Regrets,' 'The Remember Song,' The Circle Game videos  *cf *fp *ss

99. Eric Bogle (1944-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; n). Scottish-Australian topical songwriter Bogle has received many important honors for his fervent humanitarianism:  'No Man's Land' ('The Green Fields of France'), 'Singing the Spirit Home,' 'All the Fine Young Men,' 'Safe in the Harbour,' 'And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda,' Something of Value, Scraps of Paper videos  *cf *ss *tf

100. Country Joe McDonald (1942-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; y). In his Vietnam War protest days with his group the Fish, Joe played for keeps: "Be the first ones on your block to have your boy come home in a box...":  'I- Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin-to-Die Rag,' Electric Music for Mind and Body, I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin-to-Die videos  *af *fr *tf

101. Billy Bragg (1957-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 2; y). This English singer-songwriter is one of the kings of topical music, especially as viewed through the lens of socialism:  'She's Leaving Home,' 'A New England,' 'Sexuality,' Back to Basics, Mermaid Avenue videos  *af *pf *ss *tf

102. The Highwaymen  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 5; n). The Highwaymen had but one major success--'Michael'--but it came just at the right time, the summer of 1961, helping propel the folk revival movement to national awareness.  'Cotton Fields' videos  *ff

103. Harry Chapin (1942-1981)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 2; n). Singer-songwriter Chapin was headed for super-stardom when an automobile accident cut him down at the age of 38:  'Taxi,' 'Cats in the Cradle,' Heads & Tails videos  *fp *ss *tf

104. Capercaillie  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 5; n). Scotland's currently most popular traditional music band:  Secret People, To the Moon, Dusk Till Dawn videos  *ce *ff

105. Burl Ives (1909-1995)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; n). Ives fashioned a highly successful career as actor, educator--and folk, country, and MOR singer:  'Blue Tail Fly,' 'On Top of Old Smokey,' 'A Holly Jolly Christmas,' 'Little Bitty Tear,' 'Frosty the Snowman,' 'The Wayfaring Stranger' videos  *ff *fp

106. Richard (1937-1966) and Mimi (1945-2001) Fariña  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; n). This talented duo managed only a pair of l.p. releases before writer, singer-songwriter and dulcimer stylist Richard was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1966:  'Pack Up Your Sorrows,' 'Birmingham Sunday,' 'The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood,' 'Reno Nevada,' Celebration for a Grey Day, Reflections in a Crystal Wind videos  *cf *ss *tf

107. Martin Simpson (1953-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; n). No one else plays traditional material on solo guitar with the grace and purity that Simpson can muster:  Cool and Unusual, Prodigal Son, When I Was on Horseback videos  *cf *ff *mi

108. Kate Rusby (1973-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 5; n). In the generation of British traditional singers after Tabor and Prior, Rusby is perhaps the brightest star:  'You Belong to Me,' 'Awkward Annie,' 'Who Will Sing Me Lullabies,' The Girl Who Couldn't Fly, Awkward Annie, 10 videos  *cf *ff

109. Oysterband  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 3; y). The Oysterband combines an alternative rock and folk style with a flair for topical subjects:  'The Oxford Girl,' Little Rock to Leipzig, Freedom and Rain videos  *ff *fr *tf

110. Christine Lavin (1952-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 3; n). Lavin has an unsurpassed talent for poking fun--as much at herself, as at her various peeves:  'Sensitive New Age Guys,' 'Balded Headed Men,' 'If You Need Space Move to Utah,' Live at the Cactus Cafe--What Was I Thinking?, Beau Woes (and Other Problems of Modern Life) videos  *cf *ss *tf

111. John Gorka (1958-)  Wikipedia entry (f.r.: 4; n). With his edgy baritone and various intellectual musings, Gorka became the leading "sensitive 90s guy" among contemporary folkies:  'I Know,' 'Love Is Our Cross to Bear,' 'Land of the Bottom Line,' Land of the Bottom Line, I Know videos  *cf *ss *tf


Honorable Mentions #112 to #150 (in alphabetical order only):

Eric Andersen (1943-)   Wikipedia entry  (f.r.: 4; n).
Devendra Banhart   Wikipedia entry
 (f.r.: 2; n).
The Battlefield Band   Wikipedia entry
 (f.r.: 4; n).
The Beau Brummels   Wikipedia entry
 (f.r.: 2; n).
Norman Blake (1938-)   Wikipedia entry
 (f.r.: 2; n).
Dock Boggs (1898-1971)   Wikipedia entry
 (f.r.: 5; n).
Paul Brady (1947-)   Wikipedia entry
 (f.r.: 4; n).
Moya Brennan (1952-)   Wikipedia entry
 (f.r.: 5; n).
Mary Chapin Carpenter (1958-)   Wikipedia entry
 (f.r.: 1; n).
Shirley Collins (1935-)   Wikipedia entry
 (f.r.: 5; y).
Reverend Gary Davis (1896-1972)   Wikipedia entry
 (f.r.: 3; y).
De Danann / De Dannan   Wikipedia entry
 (f.r.: 4; n).
The Decemberists   Wikipedia entry
 (f.r.: 3; n).
Iris DeMent (1961-)  Wikipedia entry
 (f.r.: 3; n).
Dick Gaughan (1948-)   Wikipedia entry
 (f.r.: 5; n).
Bob Gibson (1931-1996)   Wikipedia entry
 (f.r.: 4; n).
The Grateful Dead   Wikipedia entry
 (f.r.: 2; y).
Ashley Hutchings (1945-)   Wikipedia entry
 (f.r.: 5; y).
The Incredible String Band   Wikipedia entry
 (f.r.: 3; y).
Indigo Girls   Wikipedia entry
 (f.r.: 2; n).
The Limeliters   Wikipedia entry
 (f.r.: 5; n).
Dougie MacLean (1954-)   Wikipedia entry
 (f.r.: 4; n).
Miriam Makeba (1932-2008)   Wikipedia entry
 (f.r.: 4; y).
Tommy Makem (1932-2007)  Wikipedia entry
 (f.r.: 5; n).
John McCutcheon (1952-)   Wikipedia entry
 (f.r.: 4; n).
Roger McGuinn (1942-)   Wikipedia entry
 (f.r.: 4; n).
Don McLean (1945-)   Wikipedia entry
 (f.r.: 3; n).
Melanie (1947-)   Wikipedia entry
 (f.r.: 3; n).
Fred Neil (1936-2001)   Wikipedia entry
 (f.r.: 4; n).
The New Christy Minstrels   Wikipedia entry
 (f.r.: 5; n).
Triona Ni Dhomhnaill   Wikipedia entry  (f.r: 5; n).
Ellis Paul (1965-)   Wikipedia entry
 (f.r.: 3; n).
Planxty   Wikipedia entry
 (f.r.: 4; y).
Peggy Seeger (1935-)   Wikipedia entry
 (f.r.: 5; y).
Solas   Wikipedia entry
 (f.r.: 5; n).
Cat Stevens (now Yusuf Islam) (1948-)   Wikipedia entry
 (f.r.: 2; n).
Dave Swarbrick (1941-2016)   Wikipedia entry
 (f.r.: 5; y).
The Tannahill Weavers   Wikipedia entry
 (f.r.: 4.5; n).
The Watersons   Wikipedia entry
 (f.r.: 5; y).

Other folks I considered (some only briefly, some not...):

10000 Maniacs, The Albion Band, Frankie Armstrong, Gene Autry, Aly Bain, Duck Baker, Sam Baker, Patrick Ball, Derek Bell, Peter Bellamy, Pierre Bensusan, Theodore Bikel, Mary Black, Blackmore's Night, Luka Bloom, Gordon Bok, Bok Muir & Trickett, The Bothy Band, Boys of the Lough, Oscar Brand, Anne Briggs, David Bromberg, Big Bill Broonzy, Jackson Browne, Vashti Bunyan, Kevin Burke, John Butler, Terry Callier, Eliza Carthy, Chad & Jeremy, Cherish the Ladies, Lui Collins, Shawn Colvin, Ry Cooder, Michael Cooney, Elizabeth Cotten, Phil Coulter, William Coulter, Marshall Crenshaw, Jim Croce, Mike Cross, Cry Cry Cry, Johnny Cunningham, Phil Cunningham, Barbara Dane, Erik Darling, Lonnie Donegan, Connie Dover, Jimmy Driftwood, The Dubliners, Antje Duvekot, Cliff Eberhardt, Eddie From Ohio, Enya, Espers, Marianne Faithfull, Ferron, Cathy Fink, Archie Fisher, Dan Fogelberg, Steve Forbert, Alasdair Fraser, Jesse Fuller, Jerry Garcia, Alice Gerrard, Ronnie Gilbert, Vance Gilbert, Eliza Gilkyson, Steve Gillette & Cindy Mangsen, Gordon Giltrap, Joe Glazer, Tracy Grammer & Dave Carter, The Greenbriar Boys, Stefan Grossman, Jack Hardy, Ben Harper, Roy Harper, Emmylou Harris, Tim Hart, John Hartford, Lee Hays, Judy Henske, Priscilla Herdman, Carolyn Hester, Joe Hill, Anne Hills, Tish Hinojosa, The Holy Modal Rounders, The Horseflies, The House Band, The Irish Rovers, Andy Irvine, Eileen Ivers, John James, Nic Jones, Rickie Lee Jones, Si Kahn, Cindy Kallet, Lucy Kaplansky, Dolores Keane, James Keelaghan, Luke Kelly, John Kirkpatrick, "Spider" John Koerner, Bonnie Koloc, Alison Krauss, Patty Larkin, Lindisfarne, Trini Lopez, Jez Lowe, Uncle Dave Macon, David Mallett, The Mamas & the Papas, Marcy Marxer, David Massengill, Iain Matthews, Matt McGinn, Barry McGuire, Susan McKeown, Rod McKuen, The Chad Mitchell Trio, Keb Mo, Mick Moloney, Bill Morrissey, Geoff Muldaur, Holly Near, Mickey Newbury, Carrie Newcomer, Nightnoise, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Tim O'Brien, Maura O'Connell, Mike Oldfield, Beth Orton, Ossian, Gram Parsons, Patrick Street, Peter & Gordon, Phranc, The Poozies, Jean Redpath, Relativity, Malvina Reynolds, Ralph Rinzler, Paul Robeson, Gamble Rogers, Garnet Rogers, Sally Rogers, Peter Rowan, Tom Russell, Tommy Sands, Claudia Schmidt, John Sebastian, Richard Shindell, Shel Silverstein, Silly Wizard, Nina Simone, P. F. Sloan, Judy Small, Elliott Smith, John Smith, Michael Smith, Chris Smither, Rosalie Sorrels, Joseph Spence, Bruce Springsteen, Bill Staines, Ralph Stanley, Al Stewart, Andy M. Stewart, John Stewart, Stephen Stills, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Steve Tilston, Happy & Artie Traum, Jay Ungar, Eric Von Schmidt, Jerry Jeff Walker, M. Ward, Norma Waterson, We Five, Susan Werner, Cheryl Wheeler, David Wilcox, Lucinda Williams, Victoria Williams, Cris Williamson, Robin Williamson, Jesse Winchester, Wolfstone, Glenn Yarbrough, Jesse Colin Young, The Young Tradition, The Youngbloods



New Notes

     Over the first few months this site was in operation it became apparent that many visitors to it hadn't fully understood what it is meant to be.  Please therefore take a moment to consider the following (I regret the extra verbiage, but sometimes you just have to get right down and explain yourself) . . .

     Various bloggers and others have complained that I include lots of people who are not themselves English or Anglo-American in the list; the point, however, is that this particular tradition is dominantly of Anglo-American origin and that these are the various artists who are contributing to its continuing evolution.  There are, of course, other folk music (and root music) traditions that are alive and well here, but these are not the present focus.  I am perfectly aware of the various nationalities of all the people listed here, but their particular heritages are beside the point: what is important is that they have chosen to deliver a kind of music that has been adopted (and adapted) by this particular folk tradition; that is, they have influenced it by falling in with its growth and development.

     A second point . . .  The list has been constructed from the point of view of the state of affairs in the U. S. A.  Were I constructing the same basic list from the point of view of the British population, you can bet that Ewan MacColl, for example, would be in the top ten; similarly, from a Canadian point of view Gordon Lightfoot would certainly be there.  You just can't create a list like this which reflects all geographically-based perspectives at once!

     Lastly, it has been noted that there are few acts on this list who are under fifty years old--but then again, the current time is not a period much dominated by folk musicians in general.  Plus, folk musicians tend to have long careers as productive acts, the result being they often become more and more prominent as time goes on.  Perhaps there is another Bob Dylan or Woody Guthrie waiting right around the corner who will set us all afire, but for the time being we must seemingly be content with dependable old-timers, and more derivative newcomers who nevertheless are skilled and committed enough to keep the tradition flowing.

Original Notes (mostly on definitions and methodology)

     Before trying to compile a ranked list it was necessary to come up with some inclusion rules a priori.  First, and fairly obviously, the folk music acts chosen had to have to some degree combined: (1) success over a long (at least significant) period, (2) some real impact on other performers and styles, through some combination of vocal, instrumental and/or writing originality, and (3) remaining reasonably well known and/or appreciated.  Then there is the matter of what constitutes "folk music."  For purposes here, I am restricting it largely to the Anglo-American tradition, or to recent imports whose influence was notable, and to connected elements of "contemporary folk," that hybrid brand of music that seeks to make (usually) serious statements about the world in which we live in a way recalling traditional presentation forms (or perhaps more to the point, traditional presentation moods and attitudes).

     There remained the problem of what to do with artists who straddle the line between folk and other genres; this is important because we do not wish to try to compare someone as well known as, for example, Van Morrison, with his fame in popular circles as a blues, jazz, and rock singer (with only a bit of folk tossed in) on equal absolute terms with, say, Martin Carthy, one of the foremost figures in the British folk revival movement, but a little known figure in the world of popular music, or in the U. S. in general. So, acts I consider more "something else" than core traditional or contemporary folk "lose points" accordingly.  For example, Cat Stevens, Harry Chapin, and Townes Van Zandt might "lose some points" for their adopting a singer-songwriter, popular or country approach as much or more than a folk one, whereas artists such as Utah Phillips, Pete Seeger, and Tom Paxton seem to just about perfectly personify what I would consider a "folk singer."  Still, some big name popular acts have been very important in introducing "the masses" to the world of folk, and for that reason a few of them are placed fairly high up on the list as well.

     There were further considerations.  First, and very importantly, the artists included here are usually referred to as a "folk-something," whether that be folk singer, folk rocker, folk guitarist, or whatever, and are typically played on radio programming characterized specifically as "folk" or "contemporary folk."  Thus, I have deliberately excluded international (e.g., reggae, klezmer) and other special "roots" genres (e.g., zydeco, blues, bluegrass, country, gospel, rockabilly) as being off the main focus (but have included quite a few British and Celtic figures because of their important influence on American folk music trends).  The absence of names such as Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Sr., Bob Marley, Bill Monroe, and Robert Johnson here may be taken as resulting from their primary association with other roots genres, and not because I think they are unimportant figures overall!!

     Also, the rankings here are connected to the artists' relative success, per: (1) placing a profile in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2nd ed., 2001) (2) the number of their recordings held by libraries in the OCLC WorldCat database (3) the number of their cross-listings in the Index to The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music (2nd ed., 1995) (4) the number of their recordings currently available on (5) Google search results combining artist names with the word "folk."  The rankings on this list have therefore been established in a manner that is at least "semi-scientific."

     Last, understand that the rankings are time sensitive--ten years ago, the list would have been different (even apart from the absence of newer acts, that is), and ten years from now, one should expect, it also will be.  History is not always kind to acts that were at one point popular!

Version Two

     Over the last several months of 2007 I conducted some additional analyses, crunched some more numbers, and came up with a slightly revised order for the top 111 artists. Among some of the new factors/sources specifically considered were mentions, number of mentions in several additional reference books, American vs. non-American nationalities--and a seven-factor scale of my own creation designed to give me some feeling for the complex meaning of "significance." Thus I attempted to rate, on a scale of one to ten, my impression of each act vis-a-vis the following seven possible aspects of "significance," their level of: commercial success, influence on other artists, "folkiness," long-term staying power, promotion of the folk tradition, influence on social change, and raw innovativeness. For all of this I used multiple regression techniques to help me evaluate where rankings seemed to over- or under-estimate what the numbers were saying. In this revision the artists who relatively speaking moved up the most were: Leadbelly, the Carter Family, Nick Drake, Josh White, the Almanac Singers, Taj Mahal, Tim Buckley, Ani DiFranco, and Mississippi John Hurt.

Special Note for Librarians

     One of the main reasons I have taken the time to compile this list is to address the collection development concerns of librarians.  The "variables" I have taken into account to assess rank importance are of my own choosing, of course, but I feel they relay an evaluation of "significance" that is not entirely arbitrary.  Further, it is an evaluation I believe is particularly apt in the context of library collections, especially college and university and large public library collections.  Draw from this list and I believe you will be getting maximum all-around value for your dollar--that is to say, you will be doing as best you can at the moment to survey the best and leading figures from this particular genre of music.

     Those who have found the list here entertaining might also be interested in the choices, annotations, and wider range of genres treated in our own library's CD genres collection, detailed here (though as of September 2008 I no longer manage this collection, and that particular list will now remain "frozen in time").

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Copyright 2006-2014 by Charles H. Smith. All rights reserved. Site launched 10 May 2006. Last modified 21 August 2009.