Music

The Best Folk Bands/Artists 

Ranker Music
Updated April 9, 2020 12.8k votes 1.2k voters 69.6k views 292 items

Folk music is one of the most renowned genres of music in the world as shown by this list of best folk songs of 2020. Every country has its own version and derivative of the genre, which is broad in its appeal. But what makes the best folk singers and folk music artists resonate with listeners. The message reflected in folk music artist's songs is originally supposed to come from folklore, hence the name, but as of late, folk songs have retained a more populist message, with the genre's mainstream pinnacle coming in the 1960s. Usually, folk singers and folk bands play acoustic instruments.

So, who are the best folk music artists and best folk singers? That's not an easy question to answer. But if you're a fan of folk music, you'll know that artists like John Prine, Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell deserve to be at or near the top of this list of folk music bands. This list should include all folk music bands, whether new and current or classic oldies, including the most popular folk musicians and folk singers, and if you notice this isn't the case, feel free to add them to this list. All of the best folk music artists need to be accounted for, and the goal of this list of folk music bands is to do exactly that.

That said it's up to you to decide who are the best folk music artists and best folk singers. This list answers the questions "who are the best folk music bands of all time?", "Who is the best folk artist today?" and "who is the greatest folk music musician ever?" If you know enough about the genre, please vote based on the quality of the band's music instead of just voting for the most popular folk music bands that you might've heard of.

list ordered by
1
Bob Dylan is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Folk Bands/Artists
jerrycstanaway added Genre: Blues-rock, Rock music & Folk music; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Highway 61 Revisited, Blood on the Tracks, Blonde on Blonde, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, Bringing It All Back Home, + more

Bob Dylan (born May 24, 1941) is an American singer-songwriter, author, poet, and visual artist who has been a major figure in popular culture for more than fifty years. Much of his most ...more

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The Best Bob Dylan Songs #3 of 225 The Greatest Living Rock Songwriterslisted on 1970s Christian Pop Artists

2
Dave Giummo is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Folk Bands/Artists
Folk Melody added

Albums: Lullaby For Nature

3
Neil Young is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Folk Bands/Artists
chip-chop added Genre: Rock music, Experimental rock & Grunge; Nationality: Canada

Albums: Harvest, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, After the Gold Rush, Tonight's the Night, On the Beach, + more

Neil Percival Young (born November 12, 1945) is a Canadian singer-songwriter. After embarking on a music career in the 1960s, he moved to Los Angeles, where he formed Buffalo Springfield with ...more

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The Best Neil Young Albums of All Time #45 of 225 The Greatest Living Rock Songwriters #153 of 316 The Greatest Singers of the Past 30 Years

4
Jim Croce is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Folk Bands/Artists
Genre: Pop music, Rock music & Folk music; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Simply the Best: Time in a Bottle: His Greatest Hits, Jim Croce Smash Hits, Singer Songwriter, Bombs Over Puerto Rico, Life and Times, + more

James Joseph Croce (; January 10, 1943 – September 20, 1973) was an American folk and rock singer-songwriter. Between 1966 and 1973, Croce released five studio albums and numerous singles. He ...more

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The Best Jim Croce Albums of All Time #36 of 372 Musicians Who Belong In The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame #204 of 1,891 The Greatest Musical Artists of All Time

5
Joni Mitchell is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Folk Bands/Artists
Genre: Pop music, Folk music & Folk jazz; Nationality: Canada

Albums: Blue, Court and Spark, Ladies of the Canyon, The Hissing of Summer Lawns, Clouds, + more

Roberta Joan "Joni" Mitchell (née Anderson; born November 7, 1943) is a Canadian singer-songwriter. Drawing from folk, pop, rock, and jazz, Mitchell's songs often reflect social ...more

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The Best Joni Mitchell Albums of All Time #136 of 225 The Greatest Living Rock Songwriters #89 of 316 The Greatest Singers of the Past 30 Years

6
Woody Guthrie is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Folk Bands/Artists
Genre: Folk music and Country; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: The Asch Recordings, Volumes 1-4, Columbia River Collection, Dust Bowl Ballads, Bound for Glory, + more

Woodrow Wilson Guthrie (; July 14, 1912 – October 3, 1967) was an American singer-songwriter, one of the most significant figures in American folk music; his music, including songs, such as ...more

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The Best Woody Guthrie Albums of All Time #241 of 1,891 The Greatest Musical Artists of All Time #137 of 526 Which Artist Would You Bring Back From The Dead To Write One More Song?

7
Gordon Lightfoot is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Folk Bands/Artists
Genre: Pop music, Rock music & Folk music; Nationality: Canada

Albums: Endless Wire, If You Could Read My Mind, Summer Side of Life, Don Quixote, Did She Mention My Name?, + more

Gordon Meredith Lightfoot Jr. (born November 17, 1938) is a Canadian singer-songwriter who achieved international success in folk, folk-rock, and country music. He is credited with helping to ...more

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The Best Gordon Lightfoot Albums of All Time #17 of 225 The Greatest Living Rock Songwriters #119 of 316 The Greatest Singers of the Past 30 Years

8
John Denver is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Folk Bands/Artists
Genre: Western music, Pop music & Traditional music; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Rocky Mountain Christmas, Christmas Like a Lullaby, A Christmas Together, Take Me Home, Country Roads, + more

Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. (December 31, 1943 – October 12, 1997), known professionally as John Denver, was an American singer-songwriter, record producer, actor, activist, and humanitarian, ...more

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The Best John Denver Albums of All Time #71 of 316 The Greatest Singers of the Past 30 Years #88 of 372 Musicians Who Belong In The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame

9
James Taylor is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Folk Bands/Artists
chip-chop added Genre: Blues-rock, Disco & Pop music; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Sweet Baby James, A Christmas Album, James Taylor at Christmas, Never Die Young, Hourglass, + more

James Vernon Taylor (born March 12, 1948) is an American singer-songwriter and guitarist. A five-time Grammy Award winner, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. He is one ...more

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The Best James Taylor Songs of All Time #77 of 225 The Greatest Living Rock Songwriters #258 of 1,891 The Greatest Musical Artists of All Time

10
Joan Baez is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Folk Bands/Artists
Genre: Americana, Pop music & Rock music; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Speaking of Dreams, Gracias a la Vida, The Joan Baez Country Music Album, The Contemporary Ballad Book, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, + more

Joan Chandos Baez (; born January 9, 1941) is an American singer, songwriter, musician and activist. Her contemporary folk music often includes songs of protest or social justice. Baez has ...more

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The Best Joan Baez Albums of All Time #302 of 1,891 The Greatest Musical Artists of All Time #41 of 677 The Best Female Vocalists Ever

11
Leonard Cohen is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Folk Bands/Artists
Genre: Synthpop, Pop music & Spoken word; Nationality: Canada

Albums: Songs of Leonard Cohen, Songs of Love and Hate, Old Ideas, The Future, Live in London, + more

Leonard Norman Cohen (September 21, 1934 – November 7, 2016) was a Canadian singer, songwriter, poet, and novelist. His work explored religion, politics, isolation, sexuality, and romantic ...more

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The Best Leonard Cohen Songs of All Time #103 of 316 The Greatest Singers of the Past 30 Years #115 of 1,891 The Greatest Musical Artists of All Time

12
Cat Stevens is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Folk Bands/Artists
samtheguitarman added
13
Carole King is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Folk Bands/Artists
chip-chop added Genre: Adult contemporary music, Blue-eyed soul & Pop music; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Tapestry, Wrap Around Joy, Music, Love Makes the World, Colour of Your Dreams, + more

Carole King (born Carol Joan Klein, February 9, 1942) is an American singer-songwriter who has been active since 1958, initially as one of the staff songwriters at the Brill Building and later ...more

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The Best Carole King Albums of All Time #71 of 225 The Greatest Living Rock Songwriters #49 of 316 The Greatest Singers of the Past 30 Years

14
John Prine is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Folk Bands/Artists
Genre: Folk music, Progressive bluegrass & Country; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: John Prine, A John Prine Christmas, Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings, Aimless Love, Standard Songs for Average People, + more

John Prine (born October 10, 1946) was an American country folk singer-songwriter. He was active as a composer, recording artist, and live performer from the early 1970s until his death in 2020. ...more

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The Best John Prine Songs #136 of 372 Musicians Who Belong In The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame #904 of 1,891 The Greatest Musical Artists of All Time

15
Donovan is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Folk Bands/Artists
chip-chop added Genre: British Invasion, Psychedelic folk & Psychedelic pop; Nationality: Scotland

Albums: Definitive Collection, Fairytale, 25 Years in Concert: The Classics Live, Mellow Yellow, HMS Donovan, + more

Donovan (born Donovan Philips Leitch, 10 May 1946) is a Scottish singer, songwriter and guitarist. He developed an eclectic and distinctive style that blended folk, jazz, pop, psychedelia, and ...more

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The Best Donovan Albums of All Time #410 of 784 The Best Singers of All Time #171 of 263 The Greatest Classic Rock Bands

16
The Weavers is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Folk Bands/Artists
gnicholls added

Albums: Wasn't That a Time, Reunion at Carnegie Hall - 1963, Kisses Sweeter Than Wine, Best of the Vanguard Years, Greatest Hits, + more

The Weavers were an American folk music quartet based in the Greenwich Village area of New York City. They sang traditional folk songs from around the world, as well as blues, gospel music, ...more
17
Linda Ronstadt is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Folk Bands/Artists
Genre: New Wave, Rock music & Latin American music; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: A Merry Little Christmas, Heart Like a Wheel, What's New, 'Round Midnight, Blue Bayou, + more

Linda Maria Ronstadt (born July 15, 1946) is a retired American popular music singer known for singing in a wide range of genres including rock, country, light opera, and Latin. She has earned ...more

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#32 of 1,891 The Greatest Musical Artists of All Time #29 of 677 The Best Female Vocalists Ever #40 of 784 The Best Singers of All Time

18
Kris Kristofferson is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Folk Bands/Artists
Genre: Outlaw country, Rock music & Folk music; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Kristofferson, Full Moon, A Star Is Born, Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends: The Publishing Demos 1968-72, The Silver Tongued Devil and I, + more

Kristoffer Kristofferson (born June 22, 1936) is an American singer-songwriter and actor. Among his songwriting credits are the songs "Me and Bobby McGee", "For the Good ...more

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The Best Kris Kristofferson Movies #23 of 225 The Greatest Living Rock Songwriters #166 of 316 The Greatest Singers of the Past 30 Years

19
Fairport Convention is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Folk Bands/Artists
gnicholls added
Fairport Convention is Fairport Convention's debut album. The band formed in 1967, with original line-up Judy Dyble and Ian MacDonald, Richard Thompson and Simon Nicol, Ashley “Tyger” Hutchings ...more
20
Richard Thompson is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Folk Bands/Artists
bri-gri added Genre: Rock music, Folk music & Electric folk; Nationality: United Kingdom

Albums: Shoot Out the Lights, I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, Walking on a Wire: 1968-2009, Mock Tudor, Pour Down Like Silver, + more

Richard Thompson (born 3 April 1949) is an English singer, songwriter, and guitarist.He made his début as a recording artist as a member of Fairport Convention in September 1967. He ...more

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#164 of 225 The Greatest Living Rock Songwriters #855 of 1,891 The Greatest Musical Artists of All Time #163 of 541 The Greatest Guitarists Of All Time

21
John Sebastian is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Folk Bands/Artists
Genre: Pop music, Rock music & Folk music; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Welcome Back, John B. Sebastian, Faithful Virtue: The Reprise Recordings, One Guy, One Guitar, + more

John Benson Sebastian (born March 17, 1944) is an American singer/songwriter, guitarist, harmonicist, and autoharpist, who is best known as a founder of The Lovin' Spoonful, a band inducted into ...more

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#298 of 603 The Best Rock Vocalists #355 of 815 These Poetic Geniuses Wrote Your Favorite Songs of All Time #111 of 219 The Top Pop Artists of the 1960s

22
Stephen Stills is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Folk Bands/Artists
chip-chop added Genre: Blues-rock, Rock music & Folk rock; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Carry On, Super Session, Stephen Stills 2, Live, Just Roll Tape, + more

Stephen Arthur Stills (born January 3, 1945) is an American singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist best known for his work with Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. ...more

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The Best Stephen Stills Albums of All Time #66 of 225 The Greatest Living Rock Songwriters #1,034 of 1,891 The Greatest Musical Artists of All Time

23
Buffy Sainte-Marie is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Folk Bands/Artists
Genre: Rock music, Folk music & Electronic music; Nationality: Canada

Albums: Fire & Fleet & Candlelight, I'm Gonna Be a Country Girl Again, Up Where We Belong, Coincidence and Likely Stories, She Used to Wanna Be a Ballerina, + more

Buffy Sainte-Marie, OC (born Beverly Sainte-Marie, c. February 20, 1941) is a Canadian-American singer-songwriter, musician, composer, visual artist, educator, pacifist, and social activist. ...more

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#1,011 of 1,891 The Greatest Musical Artists of All Time #184 of 677 The Best Female Vocalists Ever #294 of 319 The Most Inspiring (Non-Hollywood) Female Role Models

24
Lucinda Williams is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Folk Bands/Artists
Genre: Americana, Heartland rock & Rock music; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, Essence, World Without Tears, Sweet Old World, West, + more

Lucinda Gayle Williams (born January 26, 1953) is an American rock, folk, blues, and country music singer, songwriter and musician. She recorded her first albums in 1978 and 1980 in a ...more

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The Best Lucinda Williams Albums of All Time #154 of 225 The Greatest Living Rock Songwriters #355 of 677 The Best Female Vocalists Ever

25
Janis Ian is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Folk Bands/Artists
Genre: Adult contemporary music and Folk music; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Miracle Row, Unreleased 1: Mary's Eyes, Hunger, Unreleased 3: Society's Child, Society's Child: The Verve Recordings, + more

Janis Ian (born Janis Eddy Fink; April 7, 1951) is an American singer-songwriter who was most commercially successful in the 1960s and 1970s; her most widely recognized song, "At ...more

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#338 of 677 The Best Female Vocalists Ever #643 of 1,728 The Best Rock Bands of All Time #127 of 219 The Top Pop Artists of the 1960s