We have a Folk Choir here at First Unitarian in New Bedford, and I’ve been searching out repertoire for this group. My general criteria: songs that are easily singable, songs that are good for untrained voices, songs that sound good when accompanied by guitar or other folk instrument, well-known songs by folkish singer-songwriters, and/or songs with robust folk harmonies.
So I scanned the current Unitarian Universalist (UU) hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition, and the UU hymnal supplement Singing the Journey, for folkish songs. I also went through Rise Up Singing, the popular group singing songbook, and found quite a few songs there that were worth considering for liberal religious worship services. Finally, I found shape note songs in Singing the Living Tradition that are also contained in The Sacred Harp, the widespread shape note hymnal, and/or contained in the online Southern Harmony, another easily-available shape note hymnal.
All told, I came up with more than a hundred folkish hymns, which are listed on three pages (links below). I value your corrections and additions — simply add a comment to one of the specific pages below. If you have suggestions of other folkish songs that would do well in a UU worship service, add them to the comments on this page.
Folkish hymns and songs in Singing the Living Tradition and Singing the Journey. 70+ songs that are also included in Rise Up Singing (which has guitar chords for most songs). Another dozen songs in SLT and STJ but not in RUS which are fairly folkish-sounding.
Rise Up Singing as a UU hymnal. 30+ songs from this songbook that are suitable for use in UU worship services. List includes songs by Bob Dylan and the Beatles, and classic songs like “Never Turning Back” and “All God’s Critters.” (Does not include the 70+ songs listed on the above page).
Shape note hymns in Singing the Living Tradition. With references to The Sacred Harp (1991 edition), and references and links to The Southern Harmony (online 1854 edition, with MIDI files and some live recordings of these tunes). In many cases, the tunes in Singing the Living Tradition have been slightly altered (often not for the better); and generally speaking, the arrangements in SLT pale in comparison to the robust harmonies of the shape note hymnals.
Other folkish songs suitable for use in worship: Songs not contained in any of the above sources, some including sheet music and/or lyrics.