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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Bob Dylan, one of the most famous singer-songwriters

A singer-songwriter is a musician who writes, composes and sings their own material including lyrics and melodies. They often provide the sole accompaniment to an entire composition or song, typically using a guitar or piano. A number of other well-known musicians may write some of their own songs, but are usually called singers instead.



Théodore Botrel

The concept of a singer-songwriter can be traced to ancient bardic culture, which has existed in various forms throughout the world[citation needed]. Poems would be performed as chant or song, sometimes accompanied by a harp or other similar instrument. After the invention of printing, songs would be written and performed by ballad sellers. Usually these would be versions of existing tunes and lyrics, which were constantly evolving. This developed into the singer–songwriting traditions of folk culture. Traveling performers existed throughout Europe. Thus, the folklorist Anatole Le Braz gives a detailed account of one ballad singer, Yann Ar Minouz, who wrote and performed songs traveling through Brittany in the late nineteenth century and selling printed versions.[1] In large towns it was possible to make a living performing in public venues, and with the invention of phonographic recording, early singer-songwriters like Théodore Botrel and George M. Cohan became celebrities. Radio further added to their public recognition and appeal.

North America and United Kingdom

Singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie

The origins of the singer-songwriter in North America can be traced back to folk singers who created original works in the folk music style[citation needed]. The best known early singer-songwriters include Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly and Pete Seeger, along with members of The Weavers[citation needed] (Seeger performed solo and as part of the Weavers). These proto-singer-songwriters were less concerned than today's singer-songwriters with the unadulterated originality of their music and lyrics[citation needed], and would lift parts from other songs and play covers without hesitation[citation needed]. The tradition of writing topical songs (songs regarding specific issues of the day, such as LeadBelly 's "Jim Crow Blues" or Guthrie's "Deportees") was established by this group of musicians. These singers would lead rallies for labor unions, and so wrote many songs concerning the life of the working classes. This focus on social issues has greatly influenced the singer-songwriter genre.

The first popular recognition of the singer-songwriter in English-speaking North America and Great Britain occurred in the 1960s and early 1970s[citation needed] when a series of folk and country-influenced musicians rose to prominence and popularity. These singer-songwriters included Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Mickey Newbury, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Tom Rush, Phil Ochs, Steve Goodman, Arlo Guthrie, Paul Simon, Neil Young, John Denver, Jackson Browne, John Prine, Dave Mason, Jim Croce, Joni Mitchell, David Crosby, Leonard Cohen, Donovan, Randy Newman, Ian Tyson, Gordon Lightfoot, Sylvia Tyson, Nick Drake, Carly Simon, Cat Stevens, Bruce Cockburn, Harry Chapin, James Taylor, Jerry Jeff Walker, Dan Fogelberg and Dolly Parton. People who had been primarily songwriters, notably Carole King and Neil Diamond, also began releasing work as performers. In contrast to the storytelling approach of most prior country and folk music, these performers typically wrote songs from a highly personal (often first-person), introspective point of view[citation needed]. The adjectives "confessional" and "sensitive" were often used (sometimes derisively) to describe this early singer-songwriter style[citation needed].

While the members of rock bands of the era were not technically singer-songwriters[citation needed], many former band members (including Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, Peter Frampton and later Don Henley and Glenn Frey) found success as singer-songwriters in their later careers.

By the late 1970s and early 1980s the original wave of singer-songwriters had largely been absorbed into a more general pop or soft rock format[citation needed], but some new artists in the singer-songwriter tradition (including Billy Joel, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Mark Heard, Lucinda Williams, Patti Smith, Kate Bush, Rickie Lee Jones, Stevie Nicks, Cheryl Wheeler and Warren Zevon) continued to emerge, and in other cases rock and even punk rock artists such as Peter Case, Paul Collins and Paul Westerberg transitioned to careers as solo singer-songwriters.

In the late 1980s, the term was applied to a group of predominantly female U.S. artists[citation needed], beginning with Suzanne Vega whose first album sold unexpectedly well, followed by the likes of Tracy Chapman, Nanci Griffith, k.d. lang and Tori Amos, who found success first in the United Kingdom, then in her home market. In the early 1990s Mariah Carey rose to fame and became one of the most successful and well known singer-songwriters of all time[citation needed]. Later in the mid-1990s, the term was revived again with the success of Canada's Alanis Morissette and her breakthrough album Jagged Little Pill[citation needed]. The form had also grown to encompass fellow-Canadian Sarah McLachlan, who started the Lilith Fair, a tour that brought together numerous U.S. artists known for a diverse range of styles, including Sheryl Crow, Victoria Williams, Patty Griffin, Jewel, Lisa Loeb, Natalie Merchant and Joan Osborne[citation needed].

Also in the 1990s, artists such as Dave Matthews and Elliott Smith borrowed from the singer-songwriter tradition to create new acoustic-based rock styles[citation needed]. In the 2000s, a quieter style emerged, with largely impressionistic lyrics[citation needed], from artists such as Conor Oberst, Sufjan Stevens, David Bazan, South San Gabriel, Iron & Wine, David Gray, Ray LaMontagne, Meg Hutchinson, Steve Millar, Jolie Holland and Richard Buckner. Some started to branch out in new genres such as Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder.

Recording on the professional-grade systems became affordable for individuals in the late 1990s. This created opportunities for people to independently record and sell their music. Such artists are known as "indies" because they release their records on independent, often self-owned record labels, or no label at all. Additionally the Internet has provided a means for indies to get their music heard by a wider audience. Morgan MacIntyre and Jamie Ley are examples of artists, independent from any label that have a large internet following[citation needed].

Cantautori, the Italian tradition

Cantautori (Italian plural; the singular is cantautore) is the Italian expression corresponding to singer-songwriters in English. The word is a portmanteau of cantante (singer) and autore (writer).

Although the term, in theory, might refer to all those who compose and then perform their own songs, including, say, medieval troubadors, the term in contemporary Italian refers to a large number of relatively recent Italian popular singers − archetypically those who rose to prominence during the student protests of the 1960s and '70s − who write songs that may or may not be particularly melodic but always have social or political relevance. For the purposes of comparison, Bob Dylan would be an American cantautore. The most famous cantautore is Fabrizio De André. His songs are still popular today. Among the other best known are Francesco Guccini, Claudio Lolli, Lucio Dalla, Francesco De Gregori, Franco Battiato and Lucio Battisti.

Of the younger generation of artists, Samuele Bersani, Jovanotti, Carmen Consoli, Daniele Silvestri, Cristina Donà, Max Gazze, Luciano Ligabue, Vinicio Capossela, and Zucchero have often been tagged as modern cantautori.

The Spanish, Portuguese, and Catalan cognates are cantautor. The French is chantauteur. The Romanian is cantautor.

Latin traditions

Beginning in the 1960s, many Latin American countries developed singer-songwriter traditions that adopted elements from various popular styles. The first such tradition was the mid-60s invention of nueva canción, which took hold in Andean countries like Chile, Peru, Argentina and Bolivia.

Brazilian singer-songwriter Caetano Veloso

At around the same time, the Brazilian popular style bossa nova was evolving into a politically charged singer-songwriter tradition called Tropicalismo. Two performers, Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso became two of the most famous people in all of Brazil through their work in Tropicalismo.

In the same period, there developed in Italy a very prolific singer-songwriter (in Italian cantautore) tradition, initially connected with the French school of the chansonniers, and lately developed very heterogeneously. Although the term cantautore normally implies consistent sociopolitical content in lyrics, noteworthy performers in a more inclusive singer-songwriter categorization are: Domenico Modugno, Luigi Tenco, Gino Paoli, Sergio Endrigo, Fabrizio De André, Francesco De Gregori, Antonello Venditti, Roberto Vecchioni, Ivano Fossati, Lucio Dalla, Francesco Guccini and Franco Battiato. Completely resisting classification is the Neapolitan Pino Daniele, who often fuses genres as diverse as jazz, rock, blues and tarantella to produce a sound uniquely his own, with lyrics variously in Italian, Neapolitan, or English. Similarly Paolo Conte is often tagged as a cantatuore, but is more into the jazz tradition.

In neighbouring Malta, the main singer-songwriters are Walter Micallef, Manwel Mifsud and Vince Fabri. They all perform in Maltese.

Spain and Portugal have also had singer-songwriter traditions, which are sometimes said to have drawn on Latin elements. Spain is known for the nova. cançó tradition — exemplified by the Catalan Joan Manuel Serrat; the Portuguese folk/protest singer and songwriter José Afonso helped lead a revival of Portuguese folk culture, including a modernized, more socially-aware form of fado called nova canção. Following Portugal's Carnation Revolution of 1974, nova canção became more politicized and was known as canto livre. Another important Spain singer-songwriter is Joaquin Sabina.

In the latter part of the 1960s and into the 70s, socially and politically aware singer-songwriters like Silvio Rodríguez and Pablo Milanés emerged in Cuba, birthing a genre known as nueva trova. Trova as a genre has had broad influence across Latin America. In Mexico, for example, canción yucateca on the Yucatan Peninsula and trova serrana in the Sierra Norte de Oaxaca are both regional adaptations of trova. Today, Guatemalan Ricardo Arjona qualifies as Latin America's most commercially successful singer-songwriter. Although sociopolitical engagement is uneven in his oeuvre, some see Arjona's more engaged works as placing him in the tradition of the Italian cantautori.

In the mid-1970s, a singer-songwriter tradition called canto popular emerged in Uruguay.

Soviet Union and Russia

Russian bard Alexander Sukhanov

Since the 1960s, those singers who wrote songs outside the Soviet establishment have been known as "bards". Many bards performed their songs in small groups of people using a Russian guitar, rarely if ever would they be accompanied by other musicians or singers. Those who became popular held modest concerts. Bards were rarely permitted to record their music, given the political nature of many songs. As a result, bard tunes usually made their way around via the copying of amateur recordings (sometimes referred as magnitizdat) made at concerts, particularly those songs that were of political nature. Bard poetry differs from other poetry mainly in the fact that it is sung along with a simple guitar melody as opposed to being spoken. Another difference is that this form of poetry focuses less on style and more on meaning. This means that fewer stylistic devices are used, and the poetry often takes the form of narrative. What separates bard poetry from other songs is the fact that the music is far less important than the lyrics; chord progressions are often very simple and tend to repeat from one bard song to another. A far more obvious difference was the commerce-free nature of the genre: songs were written to be sung and not to be sold. The similar genre dominated by singers-songwriters is known as sung poetry in other Post-Soviet countries.

Hong Kong

Singer-songwriters were not common in Hong Kong until the early 21st century. This is due to the unique situation of the pop music scene in Hong Kong. Record labels are controlled by large enterprises leading to an abundance of K-songs (Karaoke type songs) in Hong Kong. Currently some of the distinctive and well-known singer-songwriters in Hong Kong are: Nicholas Tse (谢霆锋), Chet Lam (林一峰), Pong Nan (藍奕邦), Khalil Fong (方大同), Justin (側田), and Ivana Wong (王菀之).


Singer-songwriters are popular in Bulgaria under the name "bards", or "poets with guitars". Their tradition is a mixture of traditional folk motifs, city folklore from the early 20th century and modern influences. In the 60's, 70's and 80's of the 20th century the Communist regime in the country started to tolerate the Bulgarian "bards", promoting the so called "political songs", performed usually by one-man bands. A national festival tradition was established, under the title "Alen Mak" (Red Poppy), a symbol with strong Communist meaning in Bulgaria. After the collapse of Communism in 1989 the singer-songwriters' tradition was re-established. Currently the Bulgarian "bards" enjoy several festivals (local and international) per year, namely the PoKi Festival (Poets with Guitars, Poetic Strings) in the town of Harmanli, the Bardfest in Lovech, the Sofia Evenings of Singer-Songwriters and others. Major figures in the Bulgarian tradition are Mihail Belchev, Assen Maslarski, Grisha Trifonov, Plamen Stavrev, Vladimir Levkov, Margarita Drumeva, Plamen Sivov, Krasimir Parvanov.

World folk

Despite the communist isolation, the tradition of singer-songwriter in Romania flourished beginning with the end of the 1960s and it was put in the context of the folk music, with its three main styles in Romania : ethno folk, American-style folk and lyrical (cult) folk. The framework for many of these initiatives came under the form of Cenaclul Flacara, a series of mass cultural events with an inevitable ideological touch, still, with the merit of supporting great opening initiatives: the appropriation of Western artists like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and others from the Woodstock generation, the public performance of gospel-like music, the opening to big international issues (pop culture, accountability of the leadership, tension surging during the Cold War-with surprisingly neutral positions etc). Overall, the Romanian folk, in general, could be marked as an underground cultural movement, somewhere between non-aligned and protest music.

See also


  1. ^ Anatole Le Braz, "The Pardon of the Singers", The Land of Pardons, London, Methuen, 1926, pp. 45–104.

Further reading



Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Music article)

From Wikiquote

Music is an art form that involves sounds and silence. Music may be used for artistic or aesthetic, communicative, entertainment, or ceremonial purposes. The definition of what constitutes music varies according to culture and social context.



  • All aspects of musical practice may be disengaged, and privileged, in order to give birth to new forms of variation: variations on the relationships between the composer and the performer, between the conductor and the performer, between the performers, between the performer and the listener, variations upon gestures, variations on silence that end in a mute music that is still music because it preserves still something of the musical totality of the tradition...all elements belonging to the total musical fact may be seperated and taken as a strategic variable of musical production. This autonomization serves as true musical experimentation: little by little, the individual variables that make up a total musical fact are brought to light. Any particular music then appears as one that has made a choice among these variables, and that has privileged a certain number of them. Under these conditions, musical analysis would have to begin by recognizing the strategic variables characteristic of a given musical system: musical invention and musical analysis lend each other mutual aid.
    • Jean Molino quoted in Nattiez, Jean-Jacques, Abbate, Carolyn (translator) (1987 (original), 1990 (translation)). Music and Discourse: Toward a Semiology of Music. pp. 42–43. ISBN 0691027145.  
  • Being in a band is really great when you're 20. When you're 30, it's kind of 'Spinal Tap,' and when you're 40, it's just pathetic.
  • The emphasis of study upon a particular aspect of music is in itself ideological because it contains implications about the music's value.
    • Green, Lucy (1999). "Ideology". Key Terms in Popular Music and Culture. ISBN 0631212639.  
  • If we compel the composer to write in terms of what the listener is able to hear, we flirt with the danger of freezing the evolution of musical language, whose progressive development comes about through transgressions of a given era's perceptual habits."
    • Nattiez, Jean-Jacques, Abbate, Carolyn (translator) (1987 (original), 1990 (translation)). Music and Discourse: Toward a Semiology of Music. ISBN 0691027145.  
  • In order for music to free itself, it will have to pass over to the other side -— there where territories tremble, where the structures collapse, where the ethoses get mixed up, where a powerful song of the earth is unleashed, the great ritornelles that transmutes all the airs it carries away and makes return.
  • It appears to me that the subject of music, from Machaut to Boulez, has always been its construction. Melodies of 12-tone rows just don't happen. They must be constructed. … To demonstrate any formal idea in music, whether structure or stricture, is a matter of construction, in which the methodology is the controlling metaphor of the composition... Only by 'unfixing' the elements traditionally used to construct a piece of music could the sounds exist in themselves—not as symbols, or memories which were memories of other music to begin with.
    • Morton Feldman, quoted in Kostelanetz, Richard (editor) and Joseph Darby (editor). Classic Essays on Twentieth-Century Music. ISBN 0028645812.  
  • Most people have music in the center of their lives. I believe my work sheds light on how music affects us and why it is so influential.
  • Music has no subject beyond the combinations of notes we hear, for music speaks not only by means of sounds, it speaks nothing but sound.
  • One day I said to myself that it would be better to get rid of all that—melody, rhythm, harmony, etc. This was not a negative thought and did not mean that it was necessary to avoid them, but rather that, while doing something else, they would appear spontaneously. We had to liberate ourselves from the direct and peremptory consequence of intention and effect, because the intention would always be our own and would be circumscribed, when so many other forces are evidently in action in the final effect.
    • Christian Wolff, quoted in Kostelanetz, Richard (editor) and Joseph Darby (editor). Classic Essays on Twentieth-Century Music. ISBN 0028645812.  
  • Our musical alphabet is poor and illogical. Music, which should pulsate with life, needs new means of expression, and science alone can infuse it with youthful vigor. Why, Italian Futurists, have you slavishly reproduced only what is commonplace and boring in the bustle of our daily lives. I dream of instruments obedient to my thought and which with their contribution of a whole new world of unsuspected sounds, will lend themselves to the exigencies of my inner rhythm.
    • Edgard Varese, quoted in Kostelanetz, Richard (editor) and Joseph Darby (editor). Classic Essays on Twentieth-Century Music. ISBN 0028645812.  
  • The term 'chromatic' is understood by musicians to refer to music which includes tones which are not members of the prevailing scale, and also as a word descriptive of those individually non-diatonic tones.
    • Shir-Cliff, J (1965). Chromatic Harmony. New York: The Free Press. ISBN 0029286301.  
  • We can no longer maintain any distinction between music and discourse about music, between the supposed object of analysis and the terms of analysis.
    • Horner, Bruce (1999). "Discourse". Key Terms in Popular Music and Culture. ISBN 0631212639.  
  • We must ask whether a cross-cultural musical universal is to be found in the music itself (either its structure or function) or the way in which music is made. By 'music-making,' I intend not only actual performance but also how music is heard, understood, even learned.
    • Dane Harwood (1976:522). "Universals in Music: A Perspective from Cognitive Psychology", Ethnomusicology 20, no. 3:521-33
  • We're blues people. And blues never lets tragedy have the last word.
  • Music is an extraordinary locksmith; it is so competent that it can open our soul's door even with closed eyes!
  • Orsino: If music be the food of love, play on;
    Give me excess of it that, surfeiting,
    The appetite may sicken and so die.
  • "We get nearer to the Lord through music than perhaps through any other thing except prayer."
  • "Music" includes sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats.


  • "After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music."
  • "But then there's a moment like tonight, a profound and transcendent experience, the feeling as if a door has opened, and it's all because of that instrument, that incredible, magical instrument."
    • from the TV show Northern Exposure (episode 5x13, Mite Makes Right)
  • "Classical music is the kind we keep thinking will turn into a tune."
  • "For those of you seeking immortality, forget politics. Support the arts instead."
    • Dr. Ruth Griffioen
  • "I don't know anything about music. In my line you don't have to."
  • "I look at it this way, if the guitarist jumps ship, and we can't replace him, i'll point my gun at my drummer, and he'll point his at me, we'll count to three and end this madness."
    • Toast
  • "If a composer could say what he had to say in words he would not bother trying to say it in music."
  • "If you develop an ear for sounds that are musical it is like developing an ego. You begin to refuse sounds that are not musical and that way cut yourself off from a good deal of experience."
  • "In the beginning there was Jack, and Jack had a groove. And from this groove came the grooves of all grooves. And while one day visciously throwing down on his box, Jack boldly declared: "Let there be house!" And housemusic was born. I am you see, I am the creator, and this is my house, and in my house there is only housemusic. But I am not so selfish, because once you're into my house it then becomes our house and our housemusic. And you see, no one man owns house, because housemusic is a universal language spoken and understood by all. You see, house is a feeling, that no one can understand really, unless you're deep into the vibe of house. House is an uncontrolable desire to jack your body. And as I told you before: This is our house and our housemusic. In every house, you understand, there is a keeper and in this house the keeper is Jack. Now, some of you might wonder "Who is Jack and what is it that Jack does?" Jack is the one who gives you the power to jack your body. Jack is the one who gives you the power to do the snake. Jack is the one who gives you the key to the wiggly worm. Jack is the one who learns you how to walk your body. Jack is the one that can bring nations and nations of all jackers together under one house. You may be black, you may be white, you may be Jew or Gentile... It dont make a difference in our house. And this is fresh."
    • Larry Heard (Mr Fingers)
  • "Music is the chalk to the blackboard of life. Without it, everything is a blank slate."
    • Lexi Carter
  • "Playing the blues is like having to be black twice - Stevie Ray Vaughan missed on both counts, but I never noticed."
    • B.B. King
  • "There is only one better thing than music - live music."
    • Jacek Bukowski
  • "The immoral profession of musical criticism must be abolished."
  • "…I think, fundamentally, music is something inherently people love and need and relate to, and a lot of what's out right now feels like McDonalds. It's quick-fix. You kind of have a stomachache afterwards."
  • "I think I should have no other mortal wants, if I could always have plenty of music. It seems to infuse strength into my limbs and ideas into my brain. Life seems to go on without effort, when I am filled with music."
  • "It seems like people get afraid of a certain music if they can't pigeonhole it to their satisfaction...Good music is good music, and that should be enough for anybody."
  • The most important thing to me as a songwriter is the breath. The most important thing I could say to somebody is, "Sometimes I just breathe you in."
  • Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.
  • Musicians are the architects of heaven.
    • Bobby McFerrin
  • Music is a discipline, and a mistress of order and good manners, she makes the people milder and gentler, more moral and more reasonable.
  • Music is a laudable medium of soothening the hearts of people.
    • M.S. Subbulakshmi
  • Music is essentially useless, as life is: but both have an ideal extension which lends utility to its conditions.
  • Music is everything one listens to with the intention of listening to music.
  • Music is the application of sounds to the canvas of silence.
  • Music is the exaltation of the mind derived from things eternal, bursting forth in sound.
  • Music is the only language in which you cannot say a mean or sarcastic thing.
    • John Erskine
  • Music is what I love and it's what I feel and it's in me and to know that I can do something that I enjoy and hopefully bring some enjoyment to other people through is an incredible felling and I am just really thankful for it.
  • Music, like religion, unconditionally brings in its train all the moral virtues to the heart it enters, even though that heart is not in the least worthy.
    • Jean Baptiste Montegut
  • Music makes one feel so romantic - at least it always gets on one's nerves - which is the same thing nowadays.
  • Music with dinner is an insult both to the cook and the violinist.
  • My heart, which is so full to overflowing, has often been solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary.
  • My mother's idol among pianists was Paderewski. I knew that I would never be a Paderewski, so I searched among the other great pianists of the day, looking for a model, and I found one at last who seemed to be just right for me. He was Vladimir de Pachmann. His style was refined, and so was mine. He was distinguished for the fact that especially in the works of Chopin he struck a great number of wrong notes. It was here that I knew I could rival him, and perhaps even excel him. You see, he struck his wrong notes in extremely rapid passages; I worked at my technique until I was certain that I could strike great numbers of wrong notes in very slow passages.
  • No good opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible.
  • Take a music bath once or twice a week for a few seasons, and you will find that it is to the soul what the water bath is to the body.
  • There is no feeling, except the extremes of fear and grief, that does not find relief in music.
  • There are two means of refuge from the misery of life—music and cats.
  • Those who are affected by music can be divided into two classes: those who hear the spiritual meaning, and those who hear the material sound. There are good and evil results in each case.
    • Anonymous
  • When we are touched by a song, it is because the artist cannot hide himself.
  • The whole problem can be stated quite simply by asking, "Is there a meaning to music?" My answer would be, "Yes." And "Can you state in so many words what the meaning is?" My answer to that would be, "No."
  • "Look, I'm a pop star... I'm very busy. I do not have time to learn how to play a musical instrument."
    • Phil Oakey of The Human League
  • The only thing to rely on is music, as it is the only thing that will be there when you need it.
  • Music is everywhere from the sound of your alarm to the word goodnight.
    • Stephen Conlan
  • Music is the human soul compressed into noise
    • Richard Leadbeater
  • "Never sound pompous. You always sound noble, noble. Absolute character of music is nobility. Even popular music can be noble, you see. If it's not noble, then it's not very good..Music is an art of emotion, of nobility, of dignity, of greatness, of love, of tenderness. All that must be brought out in music but never a show of pompousness."
  • "I think of music more like a mirror that reflects the things we feel inside to the rest of the world."
    • Joshua Greenway when reflecting on the various claims that music gives meaning to life.

See also

External links

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