The International Folk Music Awards (IFMAs) are the premier recognition of folk music industry leaders, legends, unsung heroes, and rising talent.

This year, the awards show will look a bit different. Our normal in-person conference has been postponed, and instead the IFMAs will be presented on the opening day of Folk Unlocked, our 4-day virtual gathering for the folk community.

FAI members in good standing have been sent ballots to vote to determine the recipients of the following six awards: Artist of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and the Lifetime Achievement Award for Living, Legacy, and Organization/Academic categories.

The finalists for the Best Of categories were compiled through a review process of over 20 year-end charts, publications, lists, and awards rosters in the US, UK, EU, Canada, and Australia, including the NACC Folk and FAI Folk Charts.

Also presented during the IFMAs are FAI’s Spirit of Folk Awards – which celebrate community members working behind the scenes to further our genre, the Clearwater Award – for a festival demonstrating environmental stewardship, and the People’s Voice Award – for an artist who has demonstrated a career-long commitment to social justice issues.

To watch the awards announced live, make sure to register for Folk Unlocked!

All FAI members in good standing are invited to cast their ballot for the Best Of and Lifetime Achievement Awards. Voting closes on Friday, January 22, 2021, at 11:59 pm ET.

Best of 2020 Nominees

Album of the Year

“Bet on Love” – Pharis and Jason Romero

“Long Time Passing: Kronos Quartet & Friends Celebrate Pete Seeger” – Kronos Quartet

“Old Wow” – Sam Lee

“Spider Tales” – Jake Blount

“Wu Fei & Abigail Washburn” – Wu Fei & Abigail Washburn

Song of the Year

“Gone” – Tim Grimm

“Look Long” – Indigo Girls

“Peace in Our Hearts” – Eliza Gilkyson

“South Gotta Change” – Adia Victoria

“The Benefits of Being Alone” – Rose Cousins

Lifetime Achievement Award Nominees


Leonardo “Flaco” Jiménez is an accordionist and singer-songwriter who is a tradition bearer for Cunjunto, Norteño, and Tejano music and a global ambassador for the Tex-Mex sound. Jiménez has worked and recorded with Dr. John, Ry Cooder, Carlos Santana, The Rolling Stones, The Mavericks and Los Texmaniacs, and has been a member of various bands and musical collectives including Los Cominantes, the Free Mexican Airforce, Los Super Seven, and The Texas Tornados. Over a 60-year career he has recorded 18 studio albums, 1 live album, and appears on 14 compilations and re-releases. Multiple movie soundtracks feature his music and Hohner produced a signature series of accordions in his name. Jiménez is the recipient of multiple Grammy awards for his solo and band, the NEA’s National Heritage Fellowship, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from both the Recording Academy and Billboard Latin Magazine.

Photo credit: Carl Dunn

Gordon Lightfoot was a genre-defining figure in the folk-pop scene of the 1960s and 1970s and has maintained an active recording and touring career for over 60 years and 22 albums. His songs paint pictures and whether topical (The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald), historical (Canadian Railroad Trilogy), political (Black Day in July), romantic (Song for a Winter’s Night), or reflective (If You Could Read My Mind) they are indelible to the folk music landscape. His songs have been recorded by the likes of Elvis Presley, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Barbra Streisand, Eric Clapton, Peter, Paul & Mary, and countless others. Lightfoot was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and is a recipient of a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award, Canada’s highest honor in the performing arts, as well as being named a Companion of the Order of Canada. He is the winner of a record 16 Juno awards, and five GRAMMY nominations.

Melanie launched her career in the 60’s NYC folk clubs of Greenwich Village and first came to fame in Europe with her single Beautiful People, resulting in an impressive 40-day run of shows in Paris. Her career would see performances world-wide, 42 albums and compilations, and over 20 chart hits including “Brand New Key”, “What Have They Done to My Song Ma”, “Ruby Tuesday” and her song “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)” inspired by her experience performing at the first Woodstock festival in 1969. Her work has been covered by Nina Simone, Ray Charles, Queen Latifah, and The Smith’s frontman Morrissey, and she has collaborated, performed and recorded with Miley Ray Cyrus, Johnny Cash, and Kenny Rogers. Of note, Melanie launched Neighborhood Records in 1971, making her the first American woman to open a mainstream record label. She was an official ambassador for UNICEF and won an Emmy for writing the theme song for Beauty and the Beast.


Johnny Clegg (1953-2019) was a South African songwriter, dancer, musicologist, and anti-apartheid activist whose work focused on the music of indigenous South African peoples. Mentored by Charlie Mzila, Clegg mastered Zulu, the maskandi guitar, and isishameni dance. His work with Sipho Mchunu as the duo Juluka was seminal as the first white and black-fronted band in the apartheid-era with covert political messages, gaining two platinum and five gold albums. Their anthemic song Asimbonanga was dedicated to the imprisoned leader Mandela. Clegg also performed and recorded as a solo artist and went on to found another inter-racial band, Grammy-nominated Savuka. His song “Scatterlings of Africa” was a hit single in Europe and feature on the soundtrack of the movie Rain Man. Clegg was arrested on multiple occasions for his lyrics and racial integration. Clegg received multiple Honorary Doctorates and received the Order of Ikhamanga, the highest honor a citizen can receive in South Africa.

Celia Cruz (1925-2003) and is considered one of the 20th century’s most popular Latin artists, rising to fame in the 1950s as “La Guarachera de Cuba” and was known internationally as the “Queen of Salsa”. Cruz performed and recorded various Afro-Cuban music styles including guaracha, rumba, son, and bolero. Following the Cuban Revolution Cruz moved to Mexico before finally establishing her career in the U.S. Throughout her career she performed with Sonora Matancera, Tito Puente, Fania All-Stars, Dionne Warwick, and Luciano Pavarotti. Her most notable songs include “Bemba colorá”, “Quimbara”, “La vida es un carnaval”, and “La negra tiene tumbao”. She recorded 37 studio albums and multiple live albums and collaborations. She made several movies and telenovelas appearances and her catchphrase “¡Azúcar!” became an iconic symbol of salsa music. Cruz was the recipient of 14 GRAMMY nominations, two GRAMMY Awards, three Latin GRAMMY Awards, and the Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Willie Dunn (1941-2013) was a Canadian singer-songwriter, activist, film director, and politician. Inducted into the Aboriginal Walk of Honour, he was a Mi’Kmaq artist who often addressed the plight of Indigenous people in his work. He was a staple on the Canadian festival scene and toured extensively in Europe. His 1978 song “Charlie Wenjack” first told the true story a Cree boy who froze to death escaping the Residential School system. His songs “I Pity the Country”, and “Son of the Sun”, are featured on the Native North America compilation. Over his recording career, he worked with First Nation and Inuit singers including Susan Aglukark, Don Ross, Shingoose, Sylvie Bernard, Paul Ortega, Kashtin, and Buffy St. Marie. Dunn’s community and political work focused on Indigenous self-governance, language preservation, and the environment. The Prism Prize for innovation in music video created a Lifetime Achievement Award in his name and memory.


Originally known as The CooP, Fast Folk was a combination of a peer-performance feedback hub, magazine, and record company active from February 1982 to 1997 serving as an outlet for artists to release their first recordings. Initiated by Jack Hardy, Fast Folk began as a songwriters’ collective at The Cornelia Street Café in Greenwich Village, New York. The group, then known as the Songwriter’s Exchange, later as The CooP, and ultimately as Fast Folk, gave writers a chance to perform for and receive feedback from their peers. Fast Folk documented over 600 artists and distributed recordings and a review magazine of emerging non-commercial songwriters from across the United States and beyond. Alumni include Lyle Lovett, Suzanne Vega, Julie Gold, Tracy Chapman, and Shawn Colvin, as well as John Gorka, Michelle Shocked, Suzy Bogguss, Rod MacDonald, Christine Lavin, Richard Shindell, Marilyn Jaye Lewis, and Lucy Kaplansky.

International Music Council (IMC) is the world’s leading membership-based professional organization dedicated to the promotion of the value of music in the lives of all peoples. IMC’s mission is to develop sustainable music sectors worldwide, to create awareness about the value of music, to make music matter throughout the fabric of society, and to uphold basic music rights in all countries. IMC was founded in 1949 and operates independently from UNESCO headquarters in Paris as an international NGO and official partner. IMC’s network is present in 150 countries on all continents, with specialized groups in the field of arts and culture. IMC is represented by a Regional Music Council in each of the following five regions: Africa, The Americas, Asia Pacific, Europe and the Arab World. Their mission is to contribute and develop regional programs and to support activities that are specifically tailored to the needs of IMC members and partners in the region.


Putumayo began in 1975 as a Latin American handicraft shop in New York City by then 23-year old Latin American Studies student Dan Storper. Named after Colombia’s Putumayo River Valley, the company grew to seven shops and a wholesale business. The Putumayo World Music record label was launched in 1993 and since then has become known for its joyful compilations of international music, featuring playful album covers illustrated to connect the traditional to the contemporary. Putumayo has been considered a pioneer in developing the non-traditional market of gift, health food, children’s, and other specialty stores as outlets for music. The company’s commitment to helping communities in the countries where the music originates led to the label contributing more than half a million dollars to non-profit organizations around the world. Putumayo’s Kids music collections have received over 20 Parents’ Choice Awards and their World Music Hour is a syndicated weekly radio show on over 100 stations worldwide.