Folk music might not be regarded as the coolest or the most contemporary of genres. But as a style that’s been passed down from generation to generation, it’s considered by many to be the true music of the people. Here’s a look at 40 of the very best folk artists who have kept the tradition alive; there may be a few surprises along the way.
1. Arlo Guthrie
It was inevitable that Arlo Guthrie would follow in his father’s folk-music footsteps. He made his stage debut aged just ten thanks to an invitation from family friend Cisco Houston. But Woody Guthrie’s fifth child soon became a star in his own right thanks to Top-40 single “The City of New Orleans,” Woodstock favorite “Coming into Los Angeles,” and musical monologue “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree.”
2. Steve Goodman
Renowned for his songs about life in the Midwest, Steve Goodman’s own output never reached the commercial heights of those who covered it. Both Arlo Guthrie and David Allan Coe enjoyed much bigger hits with material the Chicagoan first recorded. But his observational, humorous style struck a chord with many who matter, including Bonnie Raitt and Bob Dylan.
It's something of a surprise that Donovan was hailed as the United Kingdom’s very own Bob Dylan. An instrumental figure on the flower-power scene of the 1960s, his music had a much sunnier outlook than that of his transatlantic counterpart. After all, this was a man who topped the charts in the U.S. — and reached number two in the U.K. — with a track titled “Sunshine Superman!”
4. Tracy Chapman
Tracy Chapman produced one of the most enduring hits of the late 1980s with “Fast Car.” But her self-titled debut album had plenty more socially-conscious folk gems where that came from. The singer-songwriter went on to win three Grammy Awards with the record and has inspired a generation of women to pick up the guitar.