National Folk Festival (United States)

National Folk Festival (United States)
Photo: nationalfolkfestival.com
The National Folk Festival (NFF) is an annual folk festival held in the United States. Founded in 1934, it is run and managed by the National Council for the Traditional Arts (NCTA), a private, non-profit arts organization that was created to promote traditional arts.

The first National Folk Festival was held in St. Louis, Missouri. Originally, it moved to a new host city every year (1935 – Chattanooga, Tennessee; 1936 – Dallas, Texas; 1937 – Chicago, Illinois). In 1938, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt became the patron of the festival and moved it to Washington, D.C., where it stayed for five years.

Eleanor Roosevelt actively supported the National Folk Festival during the first years of its existence and even served as the festival’s honorary Chair. Due to her support and involvement, American composer and trumpeter W. C. Handy played his first national concert on an unsegregated stage at the 1938 National Folk Festival.

Actually, the National Folk Festival has hosted many firsts. For instance, it became the first national event in the United States to put the traditional arts and culture of many nations and races into the same event on an equal footing. Besides, it is the first national arts festival to present many genres and styles of music on the same stage, including blues, cojunto tejano, polka, Cajun music, Sacred Harp signing, Peking opera, and others.

But let's get back to history. Following its five-year stay in Washington, D.C. (from 1938 to 1942), the National Folk Festival began to travel again, with irregular intervals. For instance, it was hosted by St. Louis, Missouri for a long period between 1947 and 1955, but never stayed in one host city for more than a year in the 1960s.

The current format of the National Folk Festival was established in 1987. The festival moves to a new host city every three years. The main goal of this format is to encourage local communities to create their own folk festivals based on the National Folk Festival: when NFF departs to the next city, it sometimes leaves an annual spin-off behind. American festivals that originated from NFF include the Lowell Folk Festival, the Richmond Folk Festival, the American Folk Festival in Bangor, Maine, and the Montana Folk Festival.

The National Folk Festival is the longest-running multi-cultural traditional arts celebration in the United States. Every year, it welcomes hundreds of musicians, singers and dancers from across the country, attracting an audience of about 175,000. It features both established artists and up-and-coming performers. Some of the artists who performed at early editions of the festival have since become legendary.

The National Folk Festival encompasses various genres and styles of music, including blues, rockabilly, gospel, jazz, polka, country, bluegrass, klezmer music, Cajun music, rhythm-and-blues, mariachi, Western swing, honky-tonk, and zydeco. It presents Native American, Celtic, Acadian, Middle Easter, East Asian, Latin American, East European, African, and Caribbean traditional music and dance.

National Folk Festival

Photo: nationalfolkfestival.com



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