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History of Canadian Folk Music
by Alex Cosper (12/15/12)

Canadian folk music has a heritage that goes back centuries and intertwines with British and French music. Nineteenth century Canadian folk music included "The Canadian Boat Song," written by Thomas Moore from Ireland in the early 1800s. Its popularity spread to the Northeastern United States.

In the 1960s Neil Young and Joni Mitchell were artists rooted in folk who gained popularity as American pop/rock acts. Gordon Lightfoot also emerged as a folk artist from Canada at that time. Lightfoot went on to have big hits in both countries in the 1970s with songs like "If You Could Read My Mind," "Sundown" and "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." These storyteller songs painted incredible pictures in the mind and proved to be timeless. The core of Lightfoot's most memorable material was recorded in the 70s, but he continued touring through the 21st century. Leonard Cohen, who moved to the United States in 1967, was also a poetic storyteller from Canada who was compared to Bob Dylan.

Bruce Cockburn rose as a Canadian folk artist in the late 60s, making his first big appearance at the Mariposa Folk Festival in 1967. When he played the festival again two years later he was the headliner. His early music was inspired by country music and the lyrics had Christian imagery. He began to show up on the American charts in 1979 with the song "Wondering Where the Lions Are." Cockburn continued to be popular in his homeland throughout the next few decades with several hit singles. As he began to tour around the world, his lyrics took on more political themes while his music became more diverse, as he became influenced by world music, Latin and reggae.

In the 21st century Canada has seen the rise of John Wort Hannam and Arcade Fire. Hannam is a lyrical storyteller who started his career as a school teacher then became noted for his music beginning in 2000. He has won countless awards as an independent artist and has appeared at events such as the Kerrville Folk Festival, the Calgary Folk Music Festival and the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. One of his most acclaimed albums is Queen's Hotel from 2009. Arcade Fire are also an indie artist who have won big awards, such as Canada's prestigious Juno Award in 2011 for Album of the Year for The Suburbs. Their music includes many different instruments not found in current pop music such as French horn, accordion and xylophone.

The annual Canadian Folk Music Awards (CFMA) celebrates several subgenres in which the balloting is done by journalists. The event was launched in 2005 by indie music leaders and is held in Winnipeg late in the year.

Check out information on the following Canadian music scenes:

New Brunswick
Quebec City

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