The singer/songwriter genre is rooted in the traditions of the mediaeval bards and troubadours of the 15th & 16th centuries. This style of 'musical storytelling' was championed in the post-war era by Woody Guthrie, Dorival Caymmi and others, usually presented as one man and his guitar. In the US the sound evolved with the American Contemporary Folk scene of the 1950s and early 1960s where artists such as Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger began to write and play their own songs, whilst at the same time artists such as Georges Brassens, Joan Manuel Serrat, Gino Paoli, Víctor Jara and Chico Buarque were developing along similar lines in Europe and Latin America, leading to the development of genres like Liedermacher, Cantautori and Nueva canción and influencing Chanson.
The term singer/songwriter actually arose in the late 1960s / early 1970s to describe a group of artists such as Carole King, Harry Nilsson and Randy Newman who had worked as professional songwriters and had hits recorded by other artists, but who then were able to start singing and recording their own material. Rapidly however the term became co-opted to describe the music being created by the likes of Dylan & Seeger, as well as Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and others in the American protest movement of the time and soon spread to cover similar artists working outside America.
The genre's defining qualities include confessional or political lyrics, typically with sparse acoustic accompaniment (acoustic guitar or piano) and an arrangement that relies more on the strength of the song and the performance than on production techniques or musical style. The original artists were rooted in Folk traditions but the genre has evolved to include a much broader range of influences, for example Blues, Lounge, Jazz and even Pop.