Taste-making and trend-spotting
the folk revival journalism of Robert Shelton
Keywords:folk music industry, Robert Shelton
This article explores the work of American folk music journalist Robert Shelton during the folk revival years of 1958 to 1968. It considers his status as a New York Times critic and his contributions to a range of other publications, with particular emphasis on the various readerships addressed by his journalism. Shelton’s idiolect, or personal style, is analysed with particular reference to his use of humour to attract the attention of his readership. His main critical strategies are defined as taste-making and trend-spotting. His relationship with the folk music industry is explained in the context of the critical stance towards Shelton of folk ideologues associated with the magazine Sing Out!, with whom Shelton had a fierce dispute over the legitimacy of the folk-rock genre. A final section considers ways of theorizing Shelton’s and other music journalists’ practice, and concludes that the application of actor-network theory might provide a fruitful way forward.
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