Article: North Carolina Folk Music

North Carolina Folk Music

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About Folk Music in Our Community

Overview of Issue Impacts

The musical tradition of North Carolina is rich and varied, serving as a testament to the diverse groups that have shaped the culture of North Carolina over its 300 year history. One genre that is particularly important to the musical history of North Carolina is the traditional folk music of the state and of the entire Appalachian region overall. Given the geographic and cultural diversity of the region, the term “Appalachian music” is hard to associate with a single, specific musical style (1).

Early scholarly attempts to define the musical traditions of Appalachia emphasized the connection between the musical traditions of this region and those of the British Isles (2). This revolved around the work known as “ballad-hunting”, where scholars would specifically look for American variants of tunes that originated in Great Britain. This connection was then used by later scholars, most of whom were not even from Appalachia, to argue that the “true” American musical tradition, epitomized by Appalachian music, descended solely from the music of the British Isles, serving to reduce the important contributions that the Jewish-American and African-American communities had to American popular music by that point. The reality of the growth and development of the Appalachian region clearly shows that these scholars’ claims were false. The relative diversity of the population meant that different groups often interacted musically, leading to the development of a musical style that blended a variety of influences. Today, most scholars generally agree that trying to define a single style of “Appalachian music” is not very meaningful; however, the impact that the broad musical tradition of this region has had on other genres of music, like the blues or jazz, is undeniable. Most people today tend to associate the phrase “traditional folk music” with a variety of styles, including bluegrass or country music (1).

Populations Affected by Issue

The traditional music styles of North Carolina are certainly not unique to the state; rather, they are part of the broader cultural tradition shared with many states in the broader Appalachian region. Currently, the main issues facing traditional folk music are decreasing public interest and decreasing public awareness, which diminishes the cultural significance of this type of music. Efforts are being undertaken to preserve these unique musical traditions for future generations, with several organizations working specifically for music preservation in North Carolina. 

Fast Facts


  1. Appalachian Music, Library of Congress
  2. Discovering the Roots of Appalachian Music, NC Arboretum (2016)
  3. History of Bluegrass Music, Bluegrass Heritage Foundation (2021)

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Page Contributors

Thank you to the following contributors:

  • Summer 2020:
    • Andy Q.

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Last updated April 2021

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