What is a Singer-Songwriter?


A singer-songwriter is a musician who not only plays an instrument but also sings and writes their own songs, both music and lyrics. Typically the musical instrument of choice is guitar or piano. The term “singer-songwriter” is more commonly used to describe someone who writes, sings and plays popular music but has also been used when describing someone who writes, sings and plays folk music and rock music.

Singer-songwriters date back to the times of the bards who would perform poems in the form of songs or chants, often accompanied by the harp or a similar stringed instrument. This was the beginning of what was to later evolve into singer-songwriter folk music. Europe was well-known for its traveling performers, and in larger towns and cities a singer-songwriter could make a living by entertaining in public venues.

During the 1940’s through the 1960’s young performers inspired by the American Folk music revival began writing and performing their own original songs. In the United Kingdom and North America singer-songwriters became popular during the 1960’s and into the early 1970’s, although there were singer-songwriters known to be writing, singing and performing their own work as far back as the early 20th Century. Some of the better known singer-songwriters of the 1960’s and 1970’s to gain popularity were Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Lennon, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen.

During the rock band era many musicians were technically singer-songwriters but often collaborated with others, particularly other band members, to create songs. The Beatles members, for example, often collaborated on songs, as did Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. While many of the singer-songwriters of the 1960’s and 1970’s were male there were a few female singer-songwriters, with Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell being two of the more famous ones. These two women, along with a few others, paved the way for the likes of Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Shania Twain and Tracy Chapman in the late 1980’s.

French singer-songwriters date as far back as the Middle Ages, with the first modern jazz singer-songwriter, Charles Trenet, debuting his solo career in 1938. It wasn’t until the mid-1940’s that other French singer-songwriters began to perform their own creative works. The 1960’s and 1970’s produced some of France’s greatest singer-songwriters of their time, such as Jean Ferrat, Nino Ferrer and Christophe.

Italy’s first internationally renowned singer-songwriter was Domenico Modugno, whose song “Volare” became a huge hit in 1958. Modugno was soon followed by other singer-songwriters in the late 1950’s, and in the 1980’s it was Vasco Rossi, nicknamed by his fans “the only Italian rock star”, who had a very successful career as a singer-songwriter of what has been described as a mixture of blues with a tinge of rock accompanied by Italian melodies.

Many countries and regions throughout the world have a history of singer-songwriting, with the likes of Latin America, Russia, Bulgaria, Romania and the Netherlands being just a few.