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American folk music

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Old-time music is a form of North American folk music, with roots in the folk music of many countries, most notably: England, Scotland, Ireland, and the African continent. This musical form developed along with various North American folk dances, such as square dance. The genre also encompasses ballads and other types of folk songs. It is played on acoustic instruments, generally centering on a combination of fiddle and banjo.

Reflecting the cultures that settled North America, the roots of old-time music are based in the traditional musics of the British Isles (primarily England, Scotland, and Ireland), with a strong admixture of African music. In some regions French and German sources are also prominent. While many dance tunes and ballads can be traced to European sources, many others are of purely North American origin.

The term "old-time"

With its origins in the traditional musics of Europe and Africa, old-time music represents perhaps the oldest form of North American traditional music other than Native American music, and thus the term "old-time" is an appropriate one. As a label, however, it dates back only to 1923.

Fiddlin' John Carson made some of the very first commercial recordings of traditional American country music for the Okeh label. The recordings became hits. Okeh, which had previously coined the terms "hillbilly music" to describe Appalachian and Southern fiddle-based and religious music and "race recording" to describe the music of African-American recording artists, began using "old-time music" as a term to describe the music made by artists of Carson's style. The term, thus, originated as a euphemism, but proved a suitable replacement for other terms that were considered disparaging by many inhabitants of these regions. It remains the term preferred by performers and listeners of the music.

Other sources

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, minstrel, Tin Pan Alley, gospel, and other popular music forms also entered the genre. While old-time music was practiced in all regions of the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries, by the 20th century it had come to be associated primarily with the Appalachian region.


Old-time music experienced a great revival in the early 1960s in areas such as Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Alan Jabbour, founding director of the Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, became a leader of this revival while a student at Duke University. Other important revivalists include Mike Seeger and Pete Seeger, who brought the music to New York City as early as the 1940s


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