How Shaker Music Influenced American Folk and Contemporary Music



The influence of Shaker music on American music history is a hidden gem, often overshadowed by more mainstream genres. However, the harmonious melodies and spiritual depth of Shaker songs have left an indelible mark on American folk and contemporary music. In this exploration, we will unveil the profound impact of Shaker music and how it continues to resonate in the soundscape of the United States.

A Brief Overview of Shaker Music

Before we delve into the influence of Shaker music on American music, let’s take a moment to understand the essence of Shaker music itself. The Shakers, a religious sect founded in the 18th century, were known for their unique beliefs, including communal living, pacifism, and celibacy. Music was a central aspect of their worship and daily life, characterized by simplicity, sincerity, and spirituality.

Shaker Music as a Source of Inspiration

1. Shaker Melodies and American Folk Music

Shaker melodies, with their simplicity and emotive power, found resonance in the world of American folk music. Folk artists were drawn to the authenticity and heartfelt nature of Shaker songs. Elements such as unadorned harmonies and straightforward lyrics mirrored the folk ethos of storytelling and connecting with common experiences.

Example: The Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts,” composed by Elder Joseph Brackett Jr., was adapted by Aaron Copland in his composition “Appalachian Spring.” This piece became an iconic representation of American folk music and is still performed widely today.

2. Spiritual Resonance in Contemporary Music

Shaker music’s deep spiritual resonance has also influenced contemporary musicians across various genres. The themes of simplicity, spirituality, and communal harmony are universal, and they find expression in modern compositions.

Example: The folk-rock band Mumford & Sons incorporates elements of Shaker-style harmonies and lyrical themes of unity and spiritual exploration in their music. Songs like “I Will Wait” showcase the enduring influence of Shaker music in contemporary sounds.

Shaker Music’s Enduring Impact

1. Revival of Interest

In recent years, there has been a revival of interest in Shaker music. Musicians and music enthusiasts have delved into the Shaker hymnals, reinterpreting and preserving this rich musical tradition for future generations. This revival is a testament to the timelessness and appeal of Shaker melodies.

2. Simplicity and Spirituality

The enduring appeal of Shaker music lies in its simplicity and spirituality. In a world often marked by complexity, the straightforwardness of Shaker songs provides a refreshing and contemplative experience for listeners.

3. Cultural Significance

Shaker music holds cultural significance beyond its musical contributions. It serves as a reminder of a bygone era and a way of life that emphasized communal values, equality, and faith. In this sense, Shaker music serves as a cultural touchstone for those seeking a connection to America’s past.


The influence of Shaker music on American folk and contemporary music is a testament to the enduring power of simple, heartfelt melodies. Shaker songs, rooted in spirituality and communal harmony, continue to inspire artists and resonate with audiences across generations.

As we celebrate the profound impact of Shaker music on the American musical landscape, we invite you to explore the melodies of the Shakers, to listen to the echoes of their spiritual devotion in contemporary compositions, and to appreciate the enduring legacy of a musical tradition that speaks to the soul.

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