Country & Folk

Country & Folk

Black musical tradition is a part of its core.

Cultural Origin

Late 19th century in the American South

Later Influenced

Modern Country and Folk Music, Rock & Roll, Rock

From left: The Banjo Player by William Sidney Mount, Lead Belly, Elizabeth Cotten, Charley Pride, Linda Martell, Deford Bailey, Odetta, Brownie McGhee (left) and Lesley Riddle.
From left: The Banjo Player by William Sidney Mount, Lead Belly, Elizabeth Cotten, Charley Pride, Linda Martell, Deford Bailey, Odetta, Brownie McGhee (left) and Lesley Riddle.

About The Genre

The origins of the country and folk music genres, and Black musicians' contributions to them, have been obscured over history, but it is not an overstatement to say neither would exist in their current form without Black artists.

The banjo is an instrument with roots in Africa. From its earliest days in the 19th century, what became labeled "country" or "hillbilly" music was performed by white and Black musicians in the American South. The Carter Family, known as "The First Family of Country Music" never would have developed their sound without the help of Lesley Riddle. Hank Williams learned guitar from Rufus "Tee Tot" Payne, who he said taught him "all the music training I ever had."

Black representation in country and folk music became limited once record companies decided to market different music to white and Black audiences, but it never went away. Elizabeth Cotten was rediscovered by the Seeger family and achieved success on the folk circuit in her 60s. Charley Pride was one of the most successful country artists of the 20th century, Black or white, and Linda Martell became the first Black woman to perform at the Grand Ole Opry in 1970.

Trivia/Famous Lyrics

DId you know...

One style of folk music developed by African Americans was Barbershop. As they still are today, barbershops were a place for Black men to congregate and socialize. While waiting for their haircuts, men would vocalize spirituals and other popular songs in an unaccompanied four-part singing style.

Artists from this genre

Lead Belly

Lead Belly

The deeply influential pioneer of American roots music.

Elizabeth Cotten

Elizabeth Cotten

A folk guitar master. She won her first Grammy at age 90.

DeFord Bailey

DeFord Bailey

He rose above many hardships to become a country icon.

Lesley Riddle

Lesley Riddle

An instrumental figure in the birth of country music.

Charley Pride

Charley Pride

The Jackie Robinson of country music.

Linda Martell

Linda Martell

The trailblazing Black female country star.

MORE Genres from this era

Blues

Blues

Born in the Mississippi Delta.

Jazz

Jazz

Born in New Orleans with roots in ragtime and the blues.

Swing

Swing

The dominant form of American dance music for over a decade.

Gospel

Gospel

The progeny of spirituals and cousin to the blues.