Famous American Folk Singers

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Nothing sounds sweeter to the ears than songs native to one's roots and home — songs that are free from the frills and fancies of modern day music, songs that throb with the spirit of one's country. Over the years, we have seen and heard folk whiz like Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Jimmie Rodgers, Woody Guthrie and countless others belt out some pretty iconic, chest-thumping, no-nonsense music on things that matters most to the Americans — war, work, civil rights, hardship, satire and love. Folk singers, both old and new, have been source of great pride for America. Over the years, folk music has undergone a sea of changes in terms of music and lyrics. Unlike the folk singers in the past who rendered oral histories musically, today's Gen-X folk singers are way more relaxed and stirring in their tunes and lyrics. Melding folk tunes with contemporary music and lacing it with some hard-hitting, nostalgic, or dreamy lyrics, American folk music has found a new identity with the current crop of folk singers. Join us as we trail down the timeline, trivia, and interesting facts on the lives of some famous American folk singers to have ever walked on the American soil. These biographies will leave you with a newfound love for folk songs.
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 1 
John Denver
(Best Know for His Songs 'Rocky Mountain High', 'Take Me Home, Country Roads', and 'Annie's Song')
John Denver
10
Birthdate: December 31, 1943
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Roswell, New Mexico, United States
Died: October 12, 1997

John Denver was one of the highest-selling and most popular singers during the 1970s. He was known for folk, pop and country music. Some of his greatest songs are Take Me Home Country Roads, Leaving on a Jet Plane, Rocky Mountain High, Sunshine on My Shoulders and Annie's Song. He died when a plane he was piloting crashed in California.

 2 
Joni Mitchell
(Famous for Her Studio Album 'Blue')
Joni Mitchell
14
Birthdate: November 7, 1943
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Fort Macleod, Canada

Joni Mitchell is one of the most popular Canadian singer-songwriters. Widely regarded as one of the greatest songwriters of all time, her songs reflect her feelings about joy, romance, disillusionment, and confusion. Apart from being a musician, Joni is also a visual artist who designs most of her album covers. In fact, she calls herself a painter derailed by circumstance.  

 3 
Tracy Chapman
(Known for Her Hit Singles 'Fast Car', 'Talkin' 'bout a Revolution' and 'Baby Can I Hold You')
Tracy Chapman
10
Birthdate: March 30, 1964
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Cleveland, Ohio, United States

A four-time Grammy Award-winning artist, singer Tracy Chapman is best known for her hit single, Give Me One Reason. Interested in music from a young age, she learned to play multiple instruments as a child. She made her major-stage debut in 1985 and soon became a sensational hit. She is also known for her social activism.

 4 
Harry Belafonte
(Singer, Actor)
Harry Belafonte
5
Birthdate: March 1, 1927
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: New York City, United States
 5 
John Prine
(Known for an Often Humorous Style of Original Music That Has Elements of Protest and Social Commentary)
John Prine
4
Birthdate: October 10, 1946
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Maywood, Illinois, United States
Died: April 7, 2020
 6 
Paul Simon
(American Singer-Songwriter)
Paul Simon
7
Birthdate: October 13, 1941
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Newark, New Jersey, United States

One half of the popular musical duo Simon & Garfunkel, Paul Simon is a singer-songwriter, musician, and actor. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest guitarists and songwriters of all time. His career, which has spanned more than 60 years, has been so influential that Time named him among the 100 People Who Shaped the World in 2006.

 7 
Woody Guthrie
(Singer-songwriter)
Woody Guthrie
5
Birthdate: July 14, 1912
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Okemah, Oklahoma, United States
Died: October 3, 1967
Legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie is best remembered for his songs such as This Land Is Your Land and Cocaine Blues, and the concept album Dust Bowl Ballads. He inspired artists such as Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, and performed with a guitar labeled “This machine kills fascists.”
 8 
Townes Van Zandt
(Country Singer & Songwriter Best Known for His Songs: 'Pancho and Lefty' and 'For the Sake of the Song')
Townes Van Zandt
4
Birthdate: March 7, 1944
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Fort Worth, Texas, United States
Died: January 1, 1997

Country singer Townes Van Zandt is remembered for his melancholy and lyrical tracks. His hits such as Pancho and Lefty and To Live Is to Fly have influenced many artists of subsequent generations. He struggled with depression and spent a considerable part of his life in cheap shacks and motels.

 9 
Joan Chandos Baez
(Best Known for Her Songs "Diamonds & Rust," "We Shall Overcome" and "Joe Hill")
Joan Chandos Baez
6
Birthdate: January 9, 1941
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Staten Island, New York, United States

Singer, songwriter, musician, and activist Joan Baez has been active in the music world for over six decades. She emerged as a major musical figure in the counterculture era of the 1960s. Her music encompasses various genres like pop, folk-rock, country, and gospel music. She is involved in civil rights, human rights, and environmental activism as well.

 10 
Jim Croce
(Folk and Rock Singer Best Known for His Third album 'You Don't Mess Around with Jim')
Jim Croce
5
Birthdate: January 10, 1943
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: September 20, 1973

Jim Croce was an American rock and folk singer-songwriter. At the peak of his popularity, Jim Croce died in a plane crash at age 30. Many of his works were released posthumously and achieved popularity. Jim Croce's music has been used in many popular films, such as The Hangover Part II, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and Hobbs & Shaw.

 11 
Pete Seeger
(American Folk Singer Best-Known for His Songs: ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone?’ & ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’)
Pete Seeger
4
Birthdate: May 3, 1919
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: New York City, United States
Died: January 27, 2014

Pete Seeger was an American social activist and folk singer. Seeger believed that the power of music could bring about a social change, an ideology that reflected on his works. Through his music, Seeger expressed his support towards counterculture, civil rights, environmental rights, international disarmament, and workers rights.

 12 
Arlo Guthrie
(Folk Singer Known for His Song 'Massachusetts', Which Became the Official Folk Song of the State)
Arlo Guthrie
4
Birthdate: July 10, 1947
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York City, United States
Folk singer Arlo Guthrie is known for his songs that have prominent social themes and talk about his anti-war sentiments or about social injustice. Two of his most popular tracks are Alice's Restaurant Massacree, Massachusetts, and City of New Orleans. He has also starred in films such as Alice's Restaurant.
 13 
Harry Chapin
(Singer Best Known for His Folk Rock & Pop Rock Songs)
Harry Chapin
4
Birthdate: December 7, 1942
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Greenwich Village, New York, United States
Died: July 16, 1981
Grammy-winning folk rock and pop rock singer Harry Chapin was one of the highest-paid artists of the 1970s, known for tracks such as Cat's in the Cradle. An avid philanthropist, he was part of the Presidential Commission on World Hunger. He also won a posthumous Congressional Gold Medal
 14 
Sufjan Stevens
(Singer-songwriter most famous for his Illinois album, which includes the hit Chicago)
Sufjan Stevens
5
Birthdate: July 1, 1975
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Detroit, Michigan, United States
 15 
Don McLean
(Singer-songwriter)
Don McLean
4
Birthdate: October 2, 1945
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: New Rochelle, New York, United States
 16 
Jewel
(Singer-Songwriter)
Jewel
13
Birthdate: May 23, 1974
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Payson, Utah, United States
 17 
Joanna Newsom
(Keyboardist in the San Francisco–based Indie Band “The Pleased”)
Joanna Newsom
10
Birthdate: January 18, 1982
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Grass Valley, California, United States

Joanna Newsom is an American singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and actress. Noted for her unique musical style, Newsom's early work was influenced by polyrhythms. She is one of the most important members of the modern freak folk and psychedelic folk movement. Newsom is also noted for her songwriting, which incorporates elements of avant-garde modernism and Appalachian music.

 18 
Stephen Stills
(Singer-songwriter)
Stephen Stills
4
Birthdate: January 3, 1945
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Dallas, Texas, United States
 19 
Avi Kaplan
(Singer-Songwriter)
Avi Kaplan
5
Birthdate: April 17, 1989
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Visalia, California
Avi Kaplan gained fame as part of the three-time Grammy-winning a cappella group Pentatonix, as their designated vocal bass. He later went solo with the EP Sage and Stone under the name "Avriel & the Sequoias." In 2019, he released the track Change on the Rise, as "Avi Kaplan."
 20 
Tyler Childers
4
Birthdate: June 21, 1991
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Lawrence County, Kentucky, United States
 21 
Roberta Flack
4
Birthdate: February 10, 1939
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Black Mountain, North Carolina, United States
 22 
Burl Ives
(American Musician, Actor and Folk Singer Known for His Hit 'A Little Bitty Tear')
Burl Ives
6
Birthdate: June 14, 1909
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Hunt City, Illinois, United States
Died: April 14, 1995
 23 
Phil Ochs
(Singer)
Phil Ochs
3
Birthdate: December 19, 1940
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: El Paso, Texas, USA
Died: April 9, 1976
 24 
Lead Belly
(Folk and blues singer)
Lead Belly
4
Birthdate: January 23, 1888
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Mooringsport, Louisiana, United States
Died: December 6, 1949
 25 
Janis Ian
(Singer, Songwriter, Musician & Author)
Janis Ian
4
Birthdate: April 7, 1951
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Farmingdale, New Jersey, United States
 26 
Sixto Rodriguez
(Detroit-based folk musician who released little-heard but influential folk music in the 1970's.)
Sixto Rodriguez
5
Birthdate: July 10, 1942
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Detroit, Michigan, United States
 27 
Regina Spektor
(Singer-Songwriter)
Regina Spektor
5
Birthdate: February 18, 1980
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Moscow, Russia
 28 
Alec Benjamin
(Best Known for His Breakthrough Single "Let Me Down Slowly.")
Alec Benjamin
4
Birthdate: May 28, 1994
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Phoenix, Arizona, United States
 29 
Colbie Caillat
(Singer-songwriter)
Colbie Caillat
7
Birthdate: May 28, 1985
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Malibu, California, United States
 30 
Peter Yarrow
(Singer-songwriter who found fame with the 1960s folk music trio Peter, Paul and Mary)
Peter Yarrow
3
Birthdate: May 31, 1938
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Manhattan, New York, United States
 31 
Deborah Falconer
(Singer-songwriter and Ex-Wife of Robert Downey Jr.)
Deborah Falconer
11
Birthdate: August 13, 1965
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Sacramento, California, United States
Deborah Falconer has appeared in quite a few films, such as the comedy Pyrates and the biographical film The Doors. She also released music albums such as Untangle and Brave Like Me. She was previously married to actor Robert Downey Jr. and also had a son with him.
 32 
Judy Collins
(Singer-songwriter)
Judy Collins
12
Birthdate: May 1, 1939
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Seattle, Washington, United States
 33 
Roger McGuinn
(Musician)
Roger McGuinn
5
Birthdate: July 13, 1942
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois, USA
 34 
Tom T. Hall
(Singer)
Tom T. Hall
3
Birthdate: May 25, 1936
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Olive Hill, Kentucky, USA
 35 
Loudon Wainwright III
(Singer, Actor, Singer-songwriter, Film actor, Television actor, Guitarist)
Loudon Wainwright III
3
Birthdate: September 5, 1946
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Chapel Hill, North Carolina, United States
 36 
Blaze Foley
(Singer-songwriter)
Blaze Foley
3
Birthdate: December 18, 1949
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Malvern, Arkansas, United States
Died: February 1, 1989
 37 
Ray LaMontagne
7
Birthdate: June 18, 1973
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Nashua, New Hampshire, USA
 38 
Jerry Jeff Walker
(Singer-Songwriter)
Jerry Jeff Walker
3
Birthdate: March 16, 1942
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Oneonta, New York, United States
 39 
Maddie Poppe
(Singer)
Maddie Poppe
5
Birthdate: December 5, 1997
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Clarksville, Iowa, United States
 40 
Sharon Van Etten
5
Birthdate: February 26, 1981
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Belleville, New Jersey, USA
 41 
Guy Clark
(Musician)
Guy Clark
3
Birthdate: November 6, 1941
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Monahans, Texas, U.S.
Died: May 17, 2016
 42 
Paul Stookey
(Singer-songwriter)
Paul Stookey
4
Birthdate: December 30, 1937
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Baltimore, Maryland, United States
 43 
Gillian Welch
(Singer-songwriter, Singer, Guitarist, Composer)
Gillian Welch
6
Birthdate: October 2, 1967
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Manhattan, New York, United States
 44 
Chris Burke
5
Birthdate: August 26, 1965
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Point Lookout, New York, United States
 45 
Kim Carnes
(Singer)
Kim Carnes
12
Birthdate: July 20, 1945
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Pasadena, California, USA
 46 
Ashe
(Singer)
Ashe
5
Birthdate: April 24, 1993
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: San Jose, California, United States
 47 
Rebecca Pidgeon
(Actress and Singer-Songwriter Known for Her Film ‘Homicide’ and Album ‘Behind the Velvet Curtain’)
Rebecca Pidgeon
5
Birthdate: October 10, 1965
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
 48 
Tom Paxton
(Singer-songwriter, Singer, Musician, Guitarist, Writer)
Tom Paxton
4
Birthdate: October 31, 1937
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Chicago
 49 
Justin Vernon
6
Birthdate: April 30, 1981
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Eau Claire, Wisconsin, United States
 50 
Theodore Bikel
(Folksinger and Actor Known for His Role as ‘Max Muller’ in the 1958 Film ‘The Defiant Ones')
Theodore Bikel
5
Birthdate: May 2, 1924
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Vienna, Austria
Died: July 21, 2015

Legendary Austrian-American actor Theodore Bikel is best remembered for his Academy Award-nominated portrayal of Sheriff Max Muller in the film The Defiant Ones. He had also ruled the stage with plays such as Fiddler on the Roof. As a folk singer, he sang in 21 languages and also played the guitar.