This research explores why Appalachian ballads resonated with so many folk singers during the 1960s American folk music revival. I analyze how these performers saw Appalachian ballads as authentic and how they incorporated them into their professional careers. Revivalists first encountered Appalachian ballads through folk songbooks, youth summer camps, and folk music concerts. Early twentieth-century musicologists, or “songcatchers,” popularized Appalachian ballads as authentic and defined them as significant cultural relics of Britain. By contrast, 1960s revivalists were attracted to Appalachian ballads because they both distracted from political tensions and helped revivalists reinvent the American identity amidst societal shifts. I conclude that revivalists’ ambiguous definitions of authenticity allowed Appalachian ballads to serve individual revivalists’ needs and political goals, from civil rights activism to self-discovery to cultural pride. This research demonstrates that Appalachian ballads did not have an isolated presence in the revival but rather were immensely integrated by revivalists, strengthening and diversifying the revival as a result.


Friedman, Joan

Second Advisor

Sacks, Susanna


English; History


American Studies | Appalachian Studies | Cultural History | European History | History | Musicology | United States History


1960s American folk music revival, Appalachian ballads, Appalachian folk music, Appalachian musicology, songcatchers, song catchers, Jean Ritchie, Bob Dylan, authenticity, American identity, American ethnonationalism

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



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