A Traditional singer is someone who has learned folk songs in their original context - for example while sailing a ship or working on a farm. Until modern inventions such as the phonograph radio and cinema became common, this was the only way for ordinary people to learn songs.
By the time of the first world war it became clear that people living in the countryside were preserving songs that were no longer sung in the cities. Scholarly collectors went to gatherings of country people to collect songs and tunes and publish them. The phrase "old time musician" is used commonly in the USA to designate the preservers of the musical styles of the nineteenth century. The phrase "source singer" is sometimes used. The oldest songs and the most complete versions of songs were particularly sought out.
Traditional singers were almost all born before the second world war. After 1950 it became difficult for anyone to avoid hearing popular songs on the radio, and the tradition became diluted. However some singers tried to emulate the old er styles. The phrase "Tradition Bearer" is sometimes used for the most dedicated proponents of folk songs. Often they concentrate on songs from a particular county or country - for example Frank Harte concentrated on Dublin street songs. Sometimes they preserve the local dialect and the exact phrases used by particularly admired traditional singers.
Since 1982 the USA has given a National Heritage Fellowship to artists and musicians promoting traditional styles. In the UK singers such as Martin Carthy, Shirley Collins, Kenna Campbell and Maddy Prior have been awarded MBEs for their role as tradition bearers. On their albums they often mention particular traditional singers who inspired them.
From Ireland (see Traditional Irish Singers)
From the USA (Old time Musicians)