International Folk Music Awards

The International Folk Music Awards (IFMAs) are the premier recognition of folk music industry leaders, legends, unsung heroes, and rising talent. Awards presented are: member-voted Best Of for Album, Song, and Artist of the previous year, Lifetime AchievementSpirit of Folk, inductions into the Folk DJ Hall of Fame, and in a permanent commitment to honor the socially conscious roots of folk music, the People’s Voice and Clearwater Awards. Past performers and presenters include Kris Kristofferson, Ruthie Foster, John Oates, Guy Davis, The Kingston Trio, Anais Mitchell, Megan Mullally, Bruce Cockburn, and Eliza Gilkyson. FAI members can nominate award candidates (except for Best Of Awards) here.

Lifetime Achievement Award Recipients

Each year during the International Folk Music Awards, Folk Alliance International (FAI) presents three Elaine Weissman Lifetime Achievement Awards. Named after our organization’s co-founder, these awards honor the cultural impact of legendary folk music figures – one Living, one Legacy, and one Organization or Academic institution.

Past recipients include:

  • Living: Joni Mitchell, David Amram, Peggy Seeger, Tom Paxton, Odetta
  • Legacy: Leonard Cohen, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Bessie Jones, Stan Rogers, Malvina Reynolds
  • Organization/Academic: fRoots, The English Folk Dance and Song Society, Folkways Records, Canadian Society for Traditional Music

A comprehensive list of past award recipients can be found here.


Enshrined in the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame and the first Cajun band to ever win a GRAMMY (they now have two wins and 11 nominations!), BeauSoleil (avec Michael Doucet) is one of the state’s most recognizable musical exports. Not bad for a group that began in 1975 as a side project!

Formed when he was a young National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) National Heritage Fellow tasked with studying the Cajun fiddle masters, Doucet has taken BeauSoleil in another direction since day one. For the past four decades, Michael Doucet and his bandmates have been taking Cajun music places far beyond the bayou – not just by mixing other instruments and tempos in with the traditional guitar, fiddle, and accordion sound, but by performing in all 50 of the United States and more than 33 countries.

In addition to NEA Fellowship mentioned above, Doucet was awarded a 2005 NEA National Heritage Fellowship and a United States Artists Fellowship in 2007.


Mahalia Jackson (1911-1972)

Born in New Orleans, LA, in 1911, Mahalia Jackson first sang in public at church – a fitting career start for the woman of whom Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said: “A voice like hers comes along once in a millennium.”

Jackson left her hometown for Chicago in 1927 and soon word of her amazing voice began to spread. She made a pledge only to sing gospel songs, and her 1948 recording of “Move On Up a Little Higher” was a groundbreaker – the first gospel record to be a huge sales hit with the secular crowd. She also broke barriers of another kind. In 1954 she began hosting a Sunday evening radio show on CBS and two years later, Jackson made her first appearance on national television.

Jackson was also known for her political activism, singing at U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural ball in 1961 and before a crowd of 250,000 at 1963’s historic March on Washington. She also sang at Dr. King’s funeral.

A mentor to another young gospel singer, Aretha Franklin, Mahalia Jackson never wavered from her early pledge, once noting “When you sing gospel you have a feeling there is a cure for what’s wrong.” Jackson, who died in 1972, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Music Hall of Fame in 1997.


Opened as a way to keep “true” New Orleans Jazz alive, the Preservation Hall of today is far more than what visitors saw in 1961. Then, it was simply a music venue in an old art gallery in the heart of the French Quarter. Today, Preservation Hall is an internationally known landmark synonymous with the city and it’s estimated that more than 150,000 visitors pass through its doors each year attending one (or more!) of the scheduled 360 shows. Their mission has changed as well – the Preservation Hall Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit established in 2011, “protects, preserves, and perpetuates the musical traditions and heritage of New Orleans through its four program areas: Education, Community Engagement, Legacy and Archives.”
The Foundation’s primary activity is serving the next generation of New Orleans’ musicians and listeners through education and community engagement programs. They do this by bringing the music – and instructors – directly to local schools, community centers, and detention centers. The famed Preservation Hall Jazz Band takes the message on the road, spreading New Orleans music around the globe and offering history lessons as they play.

Preservation Hall is an active member of the local cultural community, partnering with groups including the New Orleans Musician’s Hurricane Relief Fund (NOMHRF), The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, and the Make It Right Foundation.

The People’s Voice Award is presented annually to an individual who unabashedly embraces social and political commentary in their creative work and public careers.

Ani DiFranco

A vocal activist and female icon, Ani DiFranco’s international career was made notable through meaningful songwriting that embraces and embodies social activism. DiFranco’s folk roots run deep. Pete Seeger (for whose passing she penned a tribute published by the Wall Street Journal) is among her most influential mentors. DiFranco launched Righteous Babe Records in 1990 and has released more than 20 albums to date. In 2013, she received an honorary doctorate from the University of Winnipeg. Through the Righteous Babe Foundation, DiFranco has backed various grassroots cultural and political organizations, supporting causes ranging from abortion rights to gay visibility, and fair labor laws with the late Utah Phillips. In 2015, she recorded a version of Peter Mulvey’s song “Take Down Your Flag” with New Orleans musicians and jazz players, Ivan Neville and Terence Higgins, in support of the victims of the Charleston church shooting. In 2016, DiFranco urged election day turnout on her “VOTE DAMMIT” tour. Continuing her activism on and offstage, Ani regularly publishes guest articles in notable publications, and has recently written a memoir – “No Walls and the Recurring Dream” which has become a New York Times bestseller.

Clearwater Award (sponsored by the Levitt Foundation)

The Clearwater Award is presented annually to a festival that prioritizes environmental stewardship and demonstrates public leadership in sustainable event production.


Pickathon, based near Portland, Oregon, is the only outdoor music festival in the eliminate all single-use, cups, bottles, dishware, and utensils. Starting in 2010, the festival successfully replaced all throw-away cups with stainless steel cups. Since 2011, all plastic food dishes and utensils have been replaced with reusable bamboo-based materials. Free drinking water is available throughout the festival site for patrons to use with refillable containers. A volunteer Recycling & Compost team is active throughout the entire festival to ensure appropriate waste management streaming. The site, Pendarvis Farm, hosts a permanent solar array on the roof of the “Galaxy Barn”. The energy generated during the year offsets 100% of the energy used during the festival, including all the food and craft vendors.

Spirit of Folk Awards

These awards are presented to honor and celebrate people and organizations actively involved in the promotion and preservation of folk music through their creative work, their community building, and their demonstrated leadership. View past recipients here.

  • Jan Ramsey (OffBeat Magazine)
  • Laura Hassler (Musicians Without Borders)
  • Ellen Bello (Native American Music Awards)
  • Åke Lundström (Nordic Folk Alliance)
  • Ephraim Bugumba (refugee-artist)
  • Ben Sandmel (folklorist/writer)

Folk DJ Hall of Fame

The Folk DJ Hall of Fame has been established to recognize radio DJs who have made an outstanding contribution to the preservation, promotion, and presentation of folk music, and who have demonstrated and inspired leadership in the broadcast field.

  • Holger Petersen (CBC, CKUA – Edmonton, Canada)
  • Mary Katherine Aldin (KPFK – Los Angeles, USA)
  • Nick Spitzer (PRX – New Orleans, USA)