Related Videos

Top 10 Folk Musicians

VO: Matt Campbell
Script Written by Q.V. Hough. They're the musical prophets of their times. Join as we count down our picks for the Top 10 Folk Musicians. For this list, we're focusing on singers based primarily in the genre of folk music. This means that someone like John Denver did not make the cut, as he was more of country singer than a traditional folk artist. Special thanks to our users jkellis, Jack FS, abiyi, MattElmen, MattElmen, Victor Hernandez and Forrest Stutts for submitting the idea on our Interactive Suggestion Tool at WatchMojo.comsuggest

You must register to a corporate account to download this video. Please login

Script Written by Q.V. Hough.

Top 10 Folk Musicians

They're the musical prophets of their times. Join as we count down our picks for the Top 10 Folk Musicians.
For this list, we’re focusing on singers based primarily in the genre of folk music. This means that someone like John Denver did not make the cut, as he was more of country singer than a traditional folk artist.

#10: Joan Baez

She was already an established star when Bob Dylan arrived on the Greenwich Village scene of the early ‘60s, and together they raised awareness for human rights and societal issues. With her penetrating vocals and ability to insightfully interpret the work of fellow musicians, Joan Baez changed with the times and stayed relevant by singing about what she saw happening in the world. And while she claims she inspired some of Bob Dylan’s most famous recordings, the Queen of Folk also inspired a man by the name of Steve Jobs, who she dated in the early ‘80s. With a beautiful mind and soul, Baez made the world a better place through a true romance with folk music.

#9: Nick Drake

Today, musicians embrace the power of social media and YouTube to promote their work, but it’s unlikely that you’ll ever find a clip of this English singer performing live - and that’s because such video doesn’t exist. From to 1969 to 1972, Nick Drake released three brilliant albums, yet a reclusive personality sheltered his music from the general public due to a lack of touring and interviews. He once studied English literature at the University of Cambridge, and with his cluster chords, seasonal lyrics and a haunting voice, Drake produced a melancholic sound that has long touched a nerve with listeners.

#8: Peter, Paul and Mary

Formed by Albert Grossman, the man who later become the infamous manager of Bob Dylan, this New York City trio became famous by covering “Blowin’ in the Wind,” which they performed live at the 1963 March on Washington. Even though Peter, Paul and Mary produced only a single #1 hit before their 1970 breakup, they defined the era of ‘60s folk rock, as their music played a crucial role in the early commercial success of Bob Dylan’s career, along with the counterculture movement that would arrive by the end of the decade.

#7: Leonard Cohen

Once a novelist and always a poet, this Canadian has a knack for composing transcendental lyrics about life, love, sex and the true nature of the world around us. Songs like “Bird on the Wire” and “Famous Blue Raincoat” have become ideal tracks for moody listeners, and even Kurt Cobain paid homage to Leonard Cohen in the 1994 song “Pennyroyal Tea.” Even if his music often takes on a dark and mystical tone, it’s the intellectual lyrics that have long allowed listeners to reflect and appreciate the wisdom of Leonard Cohen. Oh and by the way: he’s the original writer and singer of “Hallelujah,” which gained more fame when it was covered by the likes of John Cale and Jeff Buckley.

#6: Neil Young

Inspired by the music of Bob Dylan, a young Canadian kid toured his country during the mid ‘60s and hooked up with a draft-dodging musician named Rick James. Only one of them would become a “Superfreak,” while the other became the “Godfather of Grunge.” Aside from being one of the co-founding members of Buffalo Springfield and Farm Aid, Neil Young has earned acclaim for his prolific recording career, with lyrics steeped in common man ideology. If some folk artists are an acquired taste, this man creates road music with a message behind it.

#5: Joni Mitchell

Yet another Canadian on our list, and with good reason, Joni Mitchell taught herself to play guitar with a Pete Seeger songbook. Taking her alternative guitar tunings with her, she arrived in the United States at a unique time in music history, as the hippies of California took a liking to the singer’s quirky voice and fusion of various musical styles. Her lyrics were undoubtedly “of the time” and by taking personal control over production, the final product was all her own. After a number of iconic albums associated with the counterculture movement, Joni Mitchell continued to innovate her sound throughout her career, even if popular tastes had changed.

#4: Pete Seeger

Born to a Harvard-educated father and mother who taught at Julliard, the late Pete Seeger found an early friend in music. Upon forming “The Weavers” in late ‘40s New York City, Pete Seeger inadvertently sparked a folk revival, as musicians eventually came from all parts of the country to play with the musician, including a young Bob Dylan. By the early ‘60s, Seeger was already 40 years of age, and before the end of that decade, he led group of protestors to the capital during the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam. Over forty years later, he was occupying Wall Street and performing live at Farm Aid before his death at the age of 94.

#3: Simon & Garfunkel

Ok, so maybe folk music wasn’t necessarily all the rage in the 1960s, however by the end of the decade, it most certainly was, and that was in large part to the music of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. Originally formed as “Tom and Jerry” in Queens, New York during the ‘50s, Simon and Garfunkel soon found a place in the mainstream with their deeply insightful lyrics and pop sensibilities. Like many artists, they would break up and join forces time and time again, but the ‘60s charts were filled with Simon and Garfunkel evergreen hits. They didn’t only capture the sentiments of the time but also were simultaneously timeless in nature.

#2: Bob Dylan

Born and raised in Minnesota, Bob Dylan grew up listening to the likes of Woody Guthrie and Robert Johnson, and he would name his iconic 1965 album after the road that symbolically connected him to the Delta Blues landscape of the deep south. But through his own will power and a little bit of luck, he first shocked the folk scene of New York City with his surrealistic lyrics tinged with Americana, before reaching a larger stage. And though he’s never claimed to be anything more than a singer, Bob Dylan came to represent the essence of artistic freedom and music evolution.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

Cat Stevens

José González

Gordon Lightfoot

Marcus Mumford

Townes Van Zandt

Sixto Rodriguez

#1: Woody Guthrie

Take a look at this man’s guitar and you’ll understand his musical ideology. Born and raised in the American Dust Bowl, Woody Guthrie was inspired by the working class and wrote songs about his emigration from Oklahoma to California. Unimpressed with beloved songs that didn’t reflect the present, Woody Guthrie wrote “This Land Is Your Land,” and continued to write at a rapid pace in order to present the realities of those lost in the shuffle of big business and politics. Near the end of his life, a teenage fan named Bob Dylan paid him a visit, and the music of Guthrie would soon be re-introduced to the world through a new generation of folk music artists.

So, do you agree with our selections? Who is your favorite folk musician? For more mind-blowing Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to

Sign in to access this feature

Related Blogs