Shock! Horror! Not another 'what is this beast, the one we call folk?' thread on Mudcat... actually, I quite like them on the sly. This thread has always threatened to become one.
The 1954 definition is now 54 years old and predates the explosion in accessible communication and information storage technology... These days it would be bloody hard to 'forget' who wrote what song (except things like football chants). I reckon the '54 definition could almost be described as having entered the tradition - except its authorship has not been forgotten and it seems strangely resistant to being altered or adapted by oral transmission/the folk process...
Over time, the meaning of some words change with a changing world and changing culture. I reckon 'folk' is one such word. It's a good while since it was synonymous with 'traditional' and I think we simply have to accept that and use a different word to describe traditional music (and original music deeply rooted in tradition). Like... erm... I know! Traditional music!
You can't put the genie back in the bottle. The first 'folk' music I heard that I liked was the Pogues, the Men They Couldn't Hang, Malcolm's Interview, The Band of Holy Joy, The Fishwives, The Whiskey Priests, Blyth Power etc. It's doubtful by many definitions whether any of these are actually folk on any level. But that was the first time I heard songs by, say, Ewan McColl and the first time I heard 'folk' in a context that made sense to me as a young post-punk type. When that scene went off the boil I didn't listen to any more 'folk' for years till my interest got reawakened by reissues of late sixties and early seventies 'acid folk' albums. Again, hardly 'folk' by most definitions (even if the wonderful Forest did start as a Watersons/Young Tradition inspired vocal trio...).
I don't really care what people choose to describe as folk music. Some of it I'll like and understand, some of it will leave me cold. But as a description of a recognisable type of music, I don't believe the term has ANY meaning in 2008. Go to bars and live music nights and you'll find hip young things with acoustic guitars making great original music that they call folk, and whilst some of the music is a bit twee and wafty, a lot of it is really good (and there are a hell of a lot of them around and they all look like members of the Stone Roses, even the women!). Whilst, praise the lard, very few of the ones I've seen are introspective singer songwriters, they also generally have little interest in the tradition or the revival(s) - they're too busy enjoying themselves - and have a tendency to disparage 'proper' folk as 'three blokes with a beard'. So any arguments we have at Mudcat about the meaning of folk, especially if we're coming from the turning-back-the-clock perspective, are ones we've already lost. 'Folk' has moved on.
When it comes to defining traditional music, however, that's an entirely different matter... We should be a lot more rigourous if we believe what we have needs to be kept.
PS: personally, I think if Cecil Sharp was around these days, he's be into collecting rare northern soul 7" singles.
Only joking. Really.