Narrowing down the best folk songs of all time is no easy feat. After all, what people now know as folk music derives from a movement that rescued traditional music, infused it with social and political values, and later on added a touch every day and a lot of heart. The music scene was changed forever, and these folk songs are a testament to that. Woody Guthrie nearly universally tops everyone's lists as one of the most important and influential folk singers of all time.
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The term American folk music encompasses numerous music genres, variously known as traditional music , traditional folk music , contemporary folk music , or roots music. Many traditional songs have been sung within the same family or folk group for generations, and sometimes trace back to such origins as Great Britain, Europe, or Africa. Roots music is a broad category of music including bluegrass , gospel , old time music , jug bands , Appalachian folk , blues , Cajun and Native American music. The music is considered American either because it is native to the United States or because it developed there, out of foreign origins, to such a degree that it struck musicologists as something distinctly new. It is considered "roots music" because it served as the basis of music later developed in the United States , including rock and roll , rhythm and blues , and jazz. Most songs of the Colonial and Revolutionary periods originated in England, Scotland and Ireland and were brought over by early settlers. African American folk music in the area has roots in slavery and emancipation. Early spirituals framed Christian beliefs within native practices and were heavily influenced by the music and rhythms of Africa. It relied on biblical text for much of its direction, and the use of metaphors and imagery was common.