Woody Guthrie: Wikis


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Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie with guitar labeled
"This Machine Kills Fascists"
Background information
Birth name Woodrow Wilson Guthrie
Born July 14, 1912(1912-07-14)
Okemah, Oklahoma, United States
Died October 3, 1967 (aged 55)
New York City
Genres Folk, protest song
Occupations Singer-songwriter
Instruments Guitar, Vocal, Harmonica, Mandolin, Fiddle
Years active 1930–1956
Notable instruments
Martin 000-18, Gibson Southern Jumbo, Gibson J-45

Woodrow Wilson "Woody" Guthrie (July 14, 1912 – October 3, 1967) is best known as an American singer-songwriter and folk musician, whose musical legacy includes hundreds of political, traditional and children's songs, ballads and improvised works. He frequently performed with the slogan This Machine Kills Fascists displayed on his guitar. His best-known song is "This Land Is Your Land", which is regularly sung in American schools. Many of his recorded songs are archived in the Library of Congress.[1]

Guthrie traveled with migrant workers from Oklahoma to California and learned traditional folk and blues songs. Many of his songs are about his experiences in the Dust Bowl era during the Great Depression, earning him the nickname the "Dust Bowl Troubadour".[2] Throughout his life Guthrie was associated with United States communist groups, though he was never an actual member of any.[3]

Guthrie was married three times and fathered eight children, including American folk musician Arlo Guthrie. He is the grandfather of musician Sarah Lee Guthrie.[4] Guthrie died from complications of Huntington's disease, a progressive genetic neurological disorder. During his later years, in spite of his illness, Guthrie served as a figurehead in the folk movement, providing inspiration to a generation of new folk musicians, including mentor relationships with Ramblin' Jack Elliott and Bob Dylan.

In 1997, Woody Guthrie was inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame.



Early life: 1912–30

Woody Guthrie's Okfuskee County, Oklahoma, birthplace as it appeared in 1979

Guthrie was born in Okemah, a small town in Okfuskee County, Oklahoma, to Nora Belle Sherman and Charles Edward Guthrie.[4] His parents named him after Woodrow Wilson, then Governor of New Jersey and the Democratic candidate soon to be elected President of the United States.

Charley Guthrie was an industrious businessman, owning at one time up to 30 plots of land in Okfuskee County. He was actively involved in Oklahoma politics and was a Democratic candidate for office in the county. The young Guthrie would often accompany his father when Charley made stump speeches in the area.[5]

Guthrie's early family life was affected by several tragic fires, including one that caused the loss of his family's home in Okemah. His sister Clara later died in a coal-oil fire when Guthrie was seven, and Guthrie's father was severely burned in a subsequent coal-oil fire.[6] The circumstances of these fires, especially those in which Charley was injured, remain unclear. It is unknown whether they were simple accidents or the result of actions by Guthrie's mother who, unknown to the Guthries at the time, was suffering from Huntington's disease.[7]

Nora Guthrie was eventually committed to the Oklahoma Hospital for the Insane, where she died in 1930 from Huntington's disease. It is also suspected that her father, George Sherman, judging from the circumstances surrounding his death by drowning, suffered from the same hereditary disease.[8]

With Nora Guthrie institutionalized and Charley Guthrie living in Pampa, Texas and working to repay his debts from unsuccessful real estate deals, Woody Guthrie and his siblings were on their own in Oklahoma and relied on their eldest brother, Roy Guthrie, for support. The 14-year-old Guthrie worked odd jobs around Okemah, begging meals and sometimes sleeping at the homes of family friends. According to one story, Guthrie made friends with an African-American blues harmonica player named "George", who he would watch play at the man's shoe shine booth. Before long, Guthrie bought his own harmonica and began playing along with him. However, in another interview 14 years later, Guthrie claimed he learned how to play harmonica from a boyhood friend, John Woods, and that his earlier story about the shoe-shining player was false.[9] He seemed to have a natural affinity for music and easily learned to "play by ear". He began to use his musical skills around town, playing a song for a sandwich or coins.[10] Guthrie easily learned old Irish ballads and traditional songs from the parents of friends. Although he did not excel as a student (he dropped out of high school in his fourth year and did not graduate), his teachers described him as bright. He was an avid reader on a wide range of topics. Friends recall his reading constantly.[11]

Eventually, Guthrie's father sent for his son to come to Texas where little would change for the now-aspiring musician. Guthrie, then 18, was reluctant to attend high school classes in Pampa and spent much time learning songs by busking on the streets and reading in the library at Pampa's city hall. He was growing as a musician, gaining practice by regularly playing at dances for his father's half-brother Jeff Guthrie, a fiddle player. At the library, he wrote a manuscript summarizing everything he had read on the basics of psychology. A librarian in Pampa shelved this manuscript under Guthrie's name, but it was later lost in a library reorganization.[11]

1930s: traveling

At age 19, Guthrie met and married his first wife, Mary Jennings, with whom he had three children.[12] With the advent of the Dust Bowl era, Guthrie left Texas, leaving Mary behind, and joined the thousands of Okies who were migrating to California looking for work. Many of his songs are concerned with the conditions faced by these working class people.

"This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright #154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin' it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don't give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that's all we wanted to do."

Written by Guthrie in the late 1930s on a songbook distributed to listeners of his L.A. radio show "Woody and Lefty Lou" who wanted the words to his recordings.[13]


In the late 1930s, Guthrie achieved fame in Los Angeles, California, with radio partner Maxine "Lefty Lou" Crissman as a broadcast performer of commercial "hillbilly" music and traditional folk music.[14] Guthrie was making enough money to send for his family still living in Texas. While appearing on the commercial radio station KFVD, owned by a populist-minded New Deal Democrat Frank Burke, Guthrie began to write and perform some of the protest songs that would eventually appear on Dust Bowl Ballads. It was at KFVD that Guthrie met newscaster Ed Robbin. Robbin was impressed with a song Guthrie wrote about Thomas Mooney, a wrongly convicted man who was, at the time, a leftist cause célèbre.[15] Robbin, who became Guthrie's political mentor, introduced Guthrie to socialists and communists in Southern California, including Will Geer, who would remain Guthrie's lifelong friend, and helped Guthrie book benefit performances in the communist circles in Southern California. Notwithstanding Guthrie's later claim that "the best thing that I did in 1936 was to sign up with the Communist Party",[16] he was never actually a member of the Party. He was, however, noted as a fellow traveler—an outsider who agreed with the platform of the party while not subject to party discipline.[17] Despite this, Guthrie requested that he be allowed to write a column for the Communist newspaper The Daily Worker. The column, titled "Woody Sez", appeared a total of 174 times from May 1939 to January 1940. Woody Sez was not explicitly political, but rather was about the current events Guthrie observed and experienced. The columns were written in an exaggerated hillbilly dialect and usually included a small comic,[18] and were published as a collection after Guthrie's death.[3] Steve Earle said of Woody, "I don't think of Woody Guthrie as a political writer. He was a writer who lived in very political times".[19]

With the outbreak of World War II and the nonaggression pact the Soviet Union had signed with Germany in 1939, the owners of KFVD radio did not want its staff "spinning apologia" for the Soviet Union, and both Robbin and Guthrie left the station.[20] Without the daily radio show, prospects for employment diminished, and Guthrie and his family returned to Pampa, Texas. Although Mary Guthrie was happy to return to Texas, the wanderlusting Guthrie soon after accepted Will Geer's invitation to come to New York City and headed east.

1940s: building a legacy

New York City

Arriving in New York, Guthrie, known as "the Oklahoma cowboy", was embraced by its leftist folk music community and slept on a couch in Will Geer's apartment. Guthrie made what were his first real recordings—several hours of conversation and songs that were recorded by folklorist Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress—as well as an album, Dust Bowl Ballads, for Victor Records in Camden, New Jersey.[21]

Problems listening to this file? See media help.

Guthrie was tired of the radio overplaying Irving Berlin's "God Bless America". He thought the lyrics were unrealistic and complacent.[22] Partly inspired by his experiences during a cross-country trip and his distaste for God Bless America, he penned his most famous song, "This Land Is Your Land", in February 1940; it was subtitled "God Blessed America." The melody is based on the gospel song "Oh My Loving Brother", best-known as "Little Darling, Pal of Mine", sung by the country group The Carter Family. Guthrie signed the manuscript with the comment "All you can write is what you see, Woody G., N.Y., N.Y., N.Y.".[23] He protested against class inequality in the final verses:

In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I'd seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?
As I went walking, I saw a sign there,
And on the sign there, It said "no trespassing." [In another version, the sign reads "Private Property"]
But on the other side, it didn't say nothing!
That side was made for you and me.

These verses were often omitted in subsequent recordings, sometimes by Guthrie himself. Although the song was written in 1940, it was four years before he recorded it for Moses Asch in April 1944,[24] and even longer until sheet music was produced and given to schools by Howie Richmond.[25]

In March 1940, Guthrie was invited to play at a benefit hosted by The John Steinbeck Committee to Aid Farm Workers to raise money for Migrant Workers. It was at this concert Guthrie met Pete Seeger, and the two men became good friends.[26] Later, Seeger accompanied Guthrie back to Texas to meet other members of the Guthrie family and later recalled an awkward conversation with Mary Guthrie's mother in which she asked for Seeger's help in persuading Guthrie to treat her daughter better.[27]

Guthrie had some success in New York at this time as a guest on CBS's radio program Back Where I Come From and used his influence to get a spot on the show for his friend Huddie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter. Ledbetter's Tenth Street apartment was a gathering spot for the leftwing musician circle in New York at the time, and Guthrie and Ledbetter were good friends having busked together at bars in Harlem.[28]

In September 1940 Guthrie was invited by the Model Tobacco Company to host their radio program "Pipe Smoking Time". Guthrie was paid $180 a week, an impressive salary in 1940.[29] He was finally making enough money to send regular payments back to Mary, and eventually brought her and the children to New York, where the family lived in an apartment on Central Park West. The reunion represented Woody's desire to be a better father and husband. He said "I have to set [sic] real hard to think of being a dad".[29] Unfortunately for the newly relocated family, Guthrie quit after the seventh broadcast, claiming he had begun to feel the show was too restricting when he was told what to sing.[30] Disgruntled with New York, Guthrie packed up Mary and his children in a new car and headed west to California.[31]

Pacific Northwest

In May 1941, after a brief stay in Los Angeles, Guthrie moved the family north to the state of Washington on the promise of a job. A documentary, directed by Gunther von Fritsch, was being created in support of the Bonneville Power Administration's building of the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River, and needed a narrator. Supported by a recommendation from Alan Lomax, the original idea was to have Guthrie narrate the film and sing songs onscreen. The original project was expected to take 12 months, but when filmmakers became worried about the implications of casting such a political figure, Guthrie's role was minimized. He was hired instead for one month only by the Department of the Interior to write songs about the Columbia River and the building of the federal dams for the documentary's soundtrack. While there, Guthrie toured the Columbia River and the Pacific Northwest. Guthrie said he "couldn't believe it, it's a paradise",[32] which appeared to inspire him creatively. In one month Guthrie wrote 26 songs, including three of his most famous: "Roll On Columbia", "Pastures of Plenty", and "Grand Coulee Dam".[33] The surviving songs were eventually released as Columbia River Songs. The film was never completed and was released only in a limited form.

At the conclusion of the month in Oregon and Washington, Guthrie wanted to return to New York. Tired of the continual uprooting, Mary Guthrie told him to go without her and the children.[34] Although Guthrie would see Mary again, once on a tour through Los Angeles with the Almanac Singers, it was essentially the end of their marriage. Divorce was difficult, since Mary was a member of the Catholic Church, but she reluctantly agreed in December 1943.[35]

Woody Guthrie, 1943

Almanac Singers

Following the conclusion of his work in Washington State, Guthrie corresponded with Pete Seeger about Seeger's newly formed folk-protest group, the Almanac Singers. Guthrie returned to New York with plans to tour the country as a member of the group.[36] The singers originally worked out of a loft in New York City hosting regular concerts called hootenannys, a word Pete and Woody had picked up in their cross-country travels. The singers eventually outgrew the space and moved into the cooperative Almanac House in Greenwich Village.

Initially Guthrie helped write and sing what the Almanacs Singers termed "peace" songs; while the Nazi-Soviet Pact was in effect, until Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, the Communist line was that World War II was a capitalist fraud. After Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union the topics of their songs became anti-fascist. The members of the Almanac Singers and residents of the Almanac House were a loosely defined group of musicians, though the 'core' members included Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Millard Lampell and Lee Hays. In keeping with common socialist ideals, meals, chores and rent at the Almanac House were shared. The Sunday hootenannys were good opportunities to collect donation money for rent. Songs written in the Almanac House had shared songwriting credits among all the members, although in the case of "Union Maid", members would later state that Guthrie wrote the song, ensuring that his children would receive residuals.[37]

In the Almanac House Guthrie added an air of authenticity to their work since Guthrie was a "real" working class Oklahoman. "There was the heart of America personified in Woody....And for a New York Left that was primarily Jewish, first or second generation American, and was desperately trying to get Americanized, I think a figure like Woody was of great, great importance", a friend of the group, Irwin Silber, would say.[38] Woody would routinely emphasize his working class image, reject songs he felt were not in the country blues vein he was familiar with, and would rarely contribute to household chores. House member Agnes "Sis" Cunningham, another Okie, would later recall that Woody, "loved people to think of him as a real working class person and not an intellectual".[39] Guthrie contributed songwriting and authenticity in much the same capacity for Pete Seeger's post-Almanac Singers project People's Songs, a newsletter and booking organization for labor singers, founded in 1945.[40]

Bound for Glory

Guthrie was a prolific writer, penning thousands of pages of unpublished poems and prose, many written while living in New York City. After a recording session with Alan Lomax, Lomax suggested Guthrie write an autobiography; in Lomax's opinion, Guthrie's descriptions of growing up were some of the best accounts of American childhood he had read.[41] It was during this time that Guthrie met the dancer in New York who would become his second wife, Marjorie Mazia. Mazia was an instructor at the prestigious Martha Graham Dance School, where she was assisting Sophie Maslow with her piece Folksay. Based on the folklore and poetry collected by Carl Sandburg, Folskay included the adaptation of some of Guthrie's Dust Bowl Ballads for the dance studio.[42] Guthrie continued to write songs and began work on his autobiography. The end product, Bound For Glory was completed in no small part due to the patient editing assistance of Mazia and was first published by E.P. Dutton in 1943.[43] It is a vivid tale told in the artist's own down-home dialect, with the flair and imagery of a true storyteller. Library Journal complained about the "Too careful reproduction of illiterate speech."[44] But Clifton Fadiman, reviewing the book in the New York Times, paid the author a fine tribute: "Some day people are going to wake up to the fact that Woody Guthrie and the ten thousand songs that leap and tumble off the strings of his music box are a national possession like Yellowstone and Yosemite, and part of the best stuff this country has to show the world."[44] A film adaptation of Bound for Glory was released in 1976.[45]

The Asch recordings

In 1944, Guthrie met Moses "Moe" Asch of Folkways Records, for whom he first recorded "This Land Is Your Land", and over the next few years recorded "Worried Man Blues", along with hundreds of other songs. These recordings would later be released by Folkways and Stinson Records, which had joint distribution rights to the recordings.[46] The Folkways recordings are still available (through the Smithsonian Institute online shop); the most complete series of these sessions, culled from dates with Asch, is titled simply The Asch Recordings.

World War II years

Guthrie believed performing his anti-fascist songs and poems at home were the best use of his talents; Guthrie lobbied the United States Army to accept him as a USO performer instead of conscripting him as a soldier in the draft. When Guthrie's attempts failed, his friends Cisco Houston and Jim Longhi pressured Guthrie to join the U.S. Merchant Marine.[47] Guthrie followed their advice: he served as a mess man and dishwasher, and frequently sang for the crew and troops to buoy their spirits on transatlantic voyages. Guthrie made attempts to write about his experience in the Merchant Marine, but was never satisfied with the results. Longhi later wrote about these experiences in his book Woody, Cisco and Me.[48] The book offers a rare first-hand account of Guthrie during his Merchant Marine service. In 1945, Guthrie's association with communism made him ineligible for further service in the Merchant Marine, and he was drafted into the U.S. Army.[49]

While he was on furlough from the Army, Guthrie and Marjorie were married.[50] After his discharge, they moved into a house on Mermaid Avenue in Coney Island, and over time had four children. One of their children, Cathy, died as a result of a fire at age four, sending Guthrie into a serious depression.[51] Their other children were named Joady, Nora and Arlo. Arlo followed in his father's footsteps as a singer-songwriter. During this period, Guthrie wrote and recorded, Songs to Grow on for Mother and Child, a collection of children's music, which includes the song "Goodnight Little Arlo (Goodnight Little Darlin')", written when Arlo was about nine years old.

A 1948 crash of a plane carrying 28 Mexican farm workers from Oakland, California in deportation back to Mexico inspired Woody to write "Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos)".[52]

Mermaid Avenue

The years living on Mermaid Avenue were among Guthrie's most productive periods as a writer. His extensive writings from this time were archived and maintained by Marjorie and later his estate, mostly handled by Guthrie's daughter, Nora. Several of the manuscripts contain scribblings by a young Arlo and the other Guthrie offspring.[53]

During this time Ramblin' Jack Elliott studied extensively under Guthrie, visiting his home and observing how he wrote and performed. Elliott, like Bob Dylan later, idolized Guthrie and was inspired by his idiomatic performance style and repertoire. Due to Guthrie's illness, Dylan and Guthrie's son Arlo later claimed they learned much of Guthrie's performance style from Elliott. When asked about Arlo's claim, Elliott said, "I was flattered. Dylan learned from me the same way I learned from Woody. Woody didn't teach me. He just said, If you want to learn something, just steal it—that's the way I learned from Lead Belly."[citation needed][54]

1950s and 1960s

Deteriorating health

By the late 1940s, Guthrie's health was declining and his behavior was becoming extremely erratic. He received various diagnoses (including alcoholism and schizophrenia), but in 1952 it was finally determined that he was suffering from Huntington's disease, the genetic disorder inherited from his mother. Believing him to be a danger to their children, Marjorie suggested he return to California without her; they eventually divorced.[55]

Upon his return to California, Guthrie lived in a compound, owned by Will Geer, with blacklisted singers and actors waiting out the political climate. As his health worsened he met and married his third wife, Anneke Van Kirk, and they had a child, Lorina Lynn. The couple moved to Florida briefly, living in a bus on land owned by a friend. Guthrie's arm was hurt in a campfire accident when gasoline used to start the campfire exploded. Although he regained movement in the arm, he was never able to play the guitar again. In 1954 the couple returned to New York.[56] Shortly after, Anneke filed for divorce, a result of the strain of caring for Guthrie. Anneke left New York, allowing friends to adopt Lorina Lynn. After the divorce, Guthrie's second wife, Marjorie, re-entered his life; it was Marjorie who cared for him and assisted him until his death.

Guthrie, increasingly unable to control his muscle movements, was hospitalized at Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital from 1956 to 1961, at Brooklyn State Hospital until 1966,[57] and finally at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center until his death.[58] Marjorie and the children visited Guthrie at Greystone every Sunday. They answered fan mail and played on the hospital grounds. Eventually a longtime fan of Guthrie invited the family to his nearby home for these Sunday visits lasting until Guthrie was moved to the Brooklyn State Hospital, which was closer to where Marjorie lived. When Bob Dylan, who idolized Guthrie and whose early folk career was deeply inspired by Guthrie, found out that Guthrie was hospitalized in Brooklyn, he was determined to meet his idol. By this time Guthrie was said to have his "good days" and "bad days". On the good days, Dylan would sing songs to him, and at the beginning Guthrie seemed to warm to Dylan. When the bad days came Guthrie would berate Dylan and it is said that on Dylan's last visit Guthrie didn't recognize him. Dylan states that he made his trek to New York City primarily to seek out his idol. At the end of Guthrie's life he was largely alone except for family, and became hard to be around due to the progression of Huntington's. Guthrie's illness was essentially untreated, due to a lack of information about the disease at the time. However, his death helped raise awareness of the disease and led Marjorie to help found the Committee to Combat Huntington's Disease, which became the Huntington's Disease Society of America.[59] None of Guthrie's three remaining children with Marjorie have developed symptoms of Huntington's, but two of Mary Guthrie's children (Gwendolyn and Sue) suffered from the disease. Both died at 41 years of age.[60]

Folk revival and Guthrie's death

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, a new generation of young people were inspired by folk singers including Guthrie. These "folk revivalists" became more politically aware in their music than those of the previous generation. The American Folk Revival was beginning to take place, focused on the issues of the day, such as the civil rights movement and free speech movement. Pockets of folk singers were forming around the country in places such as Cambridge, Massachusetts and the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City. One of Guthrie's visitors at Greystone Park was the 19-year-old Bob Dylan [61] who idolized Guthrie. Dylan wrote of Guthrie's repertoire: "The songs themselves were really beyond category. They had the infinite sweep of humanity in them."[62] After learning of Guthrie's whereabouts, Bob Dylan regularly visited him.[63] Guthrie died of complications of Huntington's disease in 1967. By the time of his death, his work had been discovered by a new audience, introduced to them in part through Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, his ex-wife Marjorie and other new members of the folk revival, and his son Arlo.

Musical legacy

"I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard traveling.

I am out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood. I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built.

I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work."[64]

Guthrie on songwriting

Foundation and archives

The Woody Guthrie Foundation is a non-profit organization that serves as administrator and caretaker of the Woody Guthrie Archives. The archive houses the largest collection of Guthrie material in the world.[65] Guthrie's unrecorded written lyrics housed at the Archives have been the starting point of several albums including the Wilco and Billy Bragg albums Mermaid Avenue and Mermaid Avenue Vol. II, created in 1998 sessions at the invitation of Guthrie's daughter Nora.[66] The Native American (Diné) trio Blackfire also interpreted previously unreleased Guthrie lyrics at Nora's invitation.[67] Jonatha Brooke's 2008 album, "The Works" (RELEASE: August 26, 2008, LABEL: Bad Dog Records) includes lyrics from the Woody Guthrie Archives set to music by Jonatha Brooke. [68]

Folk Festival

The Woody Guthrie Folk Festival is held annually in mid-July to commemorate Guthrie's life and music. The festival is held on the weekend closest to Guthrie's birth date (July 14) in Guthrie's hometown of Okemah, Oklahoma. Planned and implemented annually by the Woody Guthrie Coalition, a non-profit corporation, the goal is simply to ensure Guthrie's musical legacy.[69][70] The Woody Guthrie Coalition commissioned a local Creek Indian sculptor to cast a full-body bronze statue of Guthrie and his guitar, complete with the guitar's well-known inscription: "This machine kills fascists".[71] The statue, sculpted by artist Dan Brook, stands along Okemah's main street in the heart of downtown and was unveiled in 1998, the inaugural year of the festival.[72]

Jewish songs

Marjorie Mazia was born Marjorie Greenblatt and her mother, Aliza Greenblatt, was a well-known Yiddish poet. With her, Guthrie wrote numerous Jewish lyrics. Guthrie’s Jewish lyrics can be traced to the unusual collaborative relationship he had with his mother-in-law, who lived across from Guthrie and his family in Brooklyn in the 1940s. Guthrie (the Oklahoma troubadour) and Greenblatt (the Jewish wordsmith) often discussed their artistic projects and critiqued each other’s works, finding common ground in their shared love of culture and social justice, despite very different backgrounds. Their collaboration flourished in 1940s Brooklyn, where Jewish culture was interwoven with music, modern dance, poetry and anti-fascist, pro-labor, classic socialist activism. Guthrie was inspired to write songs that came directly out of this unlikely relationship, both personal and political; he identified the problems of Jews with those of his fellow Okies and other oppressed peoples.

These lyrics were rediscovered by Nora Guthrie and were set to music by the Jewish Klezmer group The Klezmatics with the release of Happy Joyous Hanukkah on JMG Records in 2007. The Klezmatics also released Wonder Wheel — Lyrics by Woody Guthrie, an album of spiritual lyrics put to music composed by the band.[73] The album, produced by Danny Blume, was awarded a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary World Music Album.[74]


Since his death, artists have paid tribute to Guthrie by covering his songs or by dedicating songs to him. One of the first artists to do so was Scottish folk artist Donovan, who covered Guthrie's "Car, Car (Riding in My Car)" on his 1965 debut album What's Bin Did and What's Bin Hid.[75] On January 20, 1968, three months following Guthrie's death, Harold Leventhal produced A Tribute to Woody Guthrie at New York City's Carnegie Hall.[76] Performers included Jack Elliott, Pete Seeger, Tom Paxton, Bob Dylan and The Band, Judy Collins, Arlo Guthrie, Richie Havens, Odetta, and others. Leventhal repeated the tribute on September 12, 1970 at the Hollywood Bowl. Recordings of the two concerts were eventually compiled as an album.[77] The legendary Irish folk singer, Christy Moore, was also strongly influenced by Woody in his seminal 1970 album Prosperous, giving renditions of "The Ludlow Massacre" and Bob Dylan's "Song to Woody". Bob Dylan also penned, Last Thought on Woody Guthrie as a later tribute song to Guthrie.[78] Bruce Springsteen also performed a cover of Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land" on his live album Live 1975-1985. In the introduction to the song, Springsteen referred to it as "just about one of the most beautiful songs ever written."[79]

In September 1996 Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and Case Western Reserve University cohosted Hard Travelin': The Life and Legacy of Woody Guthrie, a 10-day conference of panel sessions, lectures, and concerts. The conference became the first in what would become the museum's annual American Music Masters Series conference.[80] Highlights included Arlo Guthrie's keynote address, a Saturday night musical jamboree at Cleveland's Odeon Theater, and a Sunday night concert at Severance Hall, the home of the Cleveland Orchestra.[81] Musicians performing over the course of the conference included Arlo Guthrie, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Bragg, Pete Seeger, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, the Indigo Girls, Ellis Paul, Jimmy LaFave, Ani DiFranco, and others.[82] In 1999, Wesleyan University Press published a collection of essays from the conference[83] and DiFranco's record label, Righteous Babe, released a compilation of the Severance Hall concert, 'Til We Outnumber 'Em, in 2000.[84]

From 1999 to 2002 the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service presented the traveling exhibit, This Land Is Your Land: The Life and Legacy of Woody Guthrie. In collaboration with Nora Guthrie, the Smithsonian exhibition draws from rarely seen objects, illustrations, film footage, and recorded performances to reveal a complex man who was at once poet, musician, protester, idealist, itinerant hobo, and folk legend.[85]

In 2003, Jimmy LaFave produced a Woody Guthrie tribute show called Ribbon of Highway, Endless Skyway. The ensemble show toured around the country and included a rotating cast of singer-songwriters individually performing Guthrie's songs. Interspersed between songs were Guthrie's philosophical writings read by a narrator. In addition to LaFave, members of the rotating cast included Ellis Paul, Slaid Cleaves, Eliza Gilkyson, Joel Rafael, husband-wife duo Sarah Lee Guthrie (Woody Guthrie's granddaughter) and Johnny Irion, Michael Fracasso, and The Burns Sisters. Oklahoma songwriter Bob Childers, sometimes called "the Dylan of the Dust", served as narrator.[86][87] When word spread about the tour, performers began contacting LaFave, whose only prerequisite was to have an inspirational connection to Guthrie. Each artist chose the Guthrie songs that he or she would perform as part of the tribute. LaFave said, "It works because all the performers are Guthrie enthusiasts in some form".[citation needed][88] The inaugural performance of the Ribbon of Highway tour took place on February 5, 2003 at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. The abbreviated show was a featured segment of Nashville Sings Woody, yet another tribute concert to commemorate the music of Woody Guthrie held during the Folk Alliance Conference. The cast of Nashville Sings Woody, a benefit for the Woody Guthrie Foundation and Archives, also included Arlo Guthrie, Marty Stuart, Nanci Griffith, Guy Clark, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Janis Ian, and others.[89]

Woody and Marjorie Guthrie were honored at a musical celebration featuring Billy Bragg and the band Brad on October 17, 2007 at Webster Hall in New York City. Steve Earle also performed. The event was hosted by actor/activist Tim Robbins to benefit the Huntington¹s Disease Society of America to commemorate the organization's 40th Anniversary.[90]

Copyright controversy

In his recordings in the early 1940s Woody Guthrie included the following “Copyright Warning”:

“This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright # 154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don’t give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that’s all we wanted to do.”[91] Currently the copyright in much of Woody's songs is claimed by a number of different organizations.[92]

When JibJab published a parody[93] of Woody's song This Land Is Your Land to comment on the US 2004 Presidential election, Ludlow Music attempted to have this parody taken down, claiming it breached their copyright. JibJab then sued to affirm their parody was Fair Use, with the EFF acting for them. As part of their research on the case they found that the song had actually been first published by Woody Guthrie in 1945, although the copyright was not registered until 1956. This meant that when Ludlow applied to renew the copyright in 1984 they were 11 years too late, and the song had in fact been in the public domain since 1973 (28 years from first publication).[94] Ludlow agreed that JibJab were free to distribute their parody. In an interview on NPR Arlo Guthrie said that he thought the parody was hilarious and he thought Woody would have loved it too.[95] Ludlow still claims copyright in this song; however, it is not clear what the basis of this claim is.

Posthumous honors

Pete Seeger had the Sloop Woody Guthrie built for an organization he founded, the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater.[96] It was launched in 1978. Now operated by the Beacon Sloop Club, it serves to educate people about sailing and the history and environs of the Hudson River.

Although Guthrie's catalogue never brought him many awards while he was alive, in 1988 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the same year Bob Dylan was inducted (Dylan's initial work was heavily influenced by Guthrie),[97] and in 2000 he was honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.[98]

In 1987 "Roll On Columbia" was chosen as the official Washington State Folk Song,[99] and in 2001 Guthrie's "Oklahoma Hills" was chosen to be the official state folk song of Oklahoma.[13]

On September 26, 1992, The Peace Abbey, a multi-faith retreat center located in Sherborn, Massachusetts, awarded Guthrie their Courage of Conscience Award for his social activism and artistry in song which conveyed the plight of the common person.[100]

On June 26, 1998, as part of its Legends of American Music series, the United States Postal Service issued 45 million 32-cent stamps honoring folk musicians Huddie Ledbetter, Guthrie, Sonny Terry and Josh White. The four musicians were represented on sheets of 20 stamps.[101]

In July 2001, CB's Gallery in New York City began hosting an annual Woody Guthrie Birthday Bash concert featuring multiple performers. This event moved to the Bowery Poetry Club in 2007 after CB's Gallery and CBGB, its parent club, closed.[102]

In 2005, the Boston-based punk band Dropkick Murphys covered "Shipping up to Boston". The lyrics are from a poem written by Guthrie Copyright 2002 (Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc.). The song was released in 2005 on the album The Warrior's Code and gained fame as the main song soundtrack for blockbuster movie The Departed which was released in 2007.[103]

In 2006, The Klezmatics set Jewish lyrics written by Guthrie to music. The resulting album, Wonder Wheel, won the Grammy award for best contemporary world music album.[104]

On April 27, 2007, Guthrie was one of four Okemah natives inducted into Okemah's Hall of Fame during the town's Pioneer Day weekend of festivities.[105]

On February 10, 2008, The Live Wire: Woody Guthrie in Concert 1949, a rare live recording released in cooperation with the Woody Guthrie Foundation,[106] was the recipient of a Grammy Award in the category Best Historical Album.[107] Less than two years later, Guthrie was again nominated for a Grammy in the same category with the 2009 release of My Dusty Road on Rounder Records.[108]

Selected discography

Many Guthrie tracks have been repeatedly repackaged and reordered. Items here are listed in order of the most recent published date, not original recording date.[109]

Year Title Record Label
1940 Dust Bowl Ballads Folkways Records
1972 Greatest Songs of Woody Guthrie Vanguard
1987 Columbia River Collection Rounder Records
1988 Folkways: The Original Vision (Woody and Leadbelly) Smithsonian Folkways
1988 Library of Congress Recordings Rounder Records
1989 Woody Guthrie Sings Folk Songs Smithsonian Folkways
1990 Struggle Smithsonian Folkways
1991 Cowboy Songs on Folkways Smithsonian Folkways
1991 Songs to Grow on for Mother and Child Smithsonian Folkways
1992 Nursery Days Smithsonian Folkways
1994 Long Ways to Travel: The Unreleased Folkways Masters, 1944–1949 Smithsonian Folkways
1996 Almanac Singers UNI/MCA
1996 Ballads of Sacco & Vanzetti Smithsonian Folkways
1997 This Land Is Your Land, The Asch Recordings, Vol.1 Smithsonian Folkways
1997 Muleskinner Blues, The Asch Recordings, Vol.2 Smithsonian Folkways
1998 Hard Travelin', The Asch Recordings, Vol.3 Smithsonian Folkways
1999 Buffalo Skinners, The Asch Recordings, Vol.4 Smithsonian Folkways
2007 The Live Wire: Woody Guthrie in Concert 1949 Woody Guthrie Publications
2009 My Dusty Road Rounder Records

See also



  1. ^ Library of Congress. Related Material - Woody Guthrie Sound Recordings at the American Folklife Center. Retrieved on November 27, 2007.
  2. ^ Alarik, Scott. Robert Burns unplugged. The Boston Globe, August 7, 2005. Retrieved on December 5, 2007.
  3. ^ a b Spivey, Christine A. This Land is Your land, This Land is My Land: Folk Music, Communism, and the Red Scare as a Part of the American Landscape. The Student Historical Journal 1996–1997, Loyola University New Orleans, 1996.
  4. ^ a b Reitwiesner, William Addams. Ancestry of Arlo Guthrie. Retrieved on November 7, 2007.
  5. ^ Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 11
  6. ^ Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 30
  7. ^ Klein, Woody Guthrie, pp. 26, 32, 39
  8. ^ Klein, Woody Guthrie, pp. 1, 4
  9. ^ Guthrie's interview with Alan Lomax at the Library of Congress Recording Sessions, as recorded in Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 28. But in another interview 14 years later, Guthrie claimed he learned how to play harmonica from a boyhood friend, John Woods, and that his earlier story was false. ibid, p. 410.
  10. ^ Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 28
  11. ^ a b Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 44
  12. ^ Klein, Woody Guthrie, p. 62
  13. ^ a b Curtis, Gene. Only in Oklahoma: This man was our man. Tulsa World, March 17, 2007. Retrieved on November 6, 2007.
  14. ^ Klein, Woody Guthrie, pp. 90–92, 103–12
  15. ^ Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 139
  16. ^ Woody Guthrie Archives. "My Constitution and Me" Woody Guthrie Archives Collection. Manuscripts Box 7 Folder 23.1, Unavailable online, link to Woody Guthrie Archives website for contact information.
  17. ^ Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 151
  18. ^ Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 153
  19. ^ Corn, David. Jerusalem Calling, The Nation, October 17, 2002. Retrieved on November 7, 2007.
  20. ^ Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 161
  21. ^ Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 174
  22. ^ Klein, Woody Guthrie, p. 144
  23. ^ Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 165
  24. ^ Klein, Woody Guthrie, p. 287
  25. ^ Joe Klein, Woody Guthrie, p. 375
  26. ^ Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 168
  27. ^ Cray, Ramblin Man p. 188
  28. ^ Cray, Ramblin Man, pp. 194, 195
  29. ^ a b Cray, Ramblin Man p. 197
  30. ^ Cray, Ramblin Man p. 200
  31. ^ Cray, Ramblin Man p. 199
  32. ^ Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 209
  33. ^ Klein, Woody Guthrie, pp. 195, 196, 202, 205, 212
  34. ^ Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 213
  35. ^ Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 266
  36. ^ Klein, Woody Guthrie, p.192-93,195–231
  37. ^ Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 220
  38. ^ Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 216
  39. ^ Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 231
  40. ^ People's Songs Inc. People's Songs Newsletter, Vol 1. No 1.. 1945. Old Town School of Folk Music resource center collection.
  41. ^ Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 200, 201
  42. ^ Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 200
  43. ^ Amazon.com. Bound for Glory (Unknown Binding). Retrieved November 27, 2007.
  44. ^ a b LaBorie, Tim. Woody Guthrie biography. MusicianGuide.com. Retrieved on January 8, 2008.
  45. ^ Internet Movie Database. Bound for Glory. Retrieved on November 26, 2007.
  46. ^ Klein, Woody Guthrie, p. 417
  47. ^ Klein, Woody Guthrie, pp. 277–80, 287–91
  48. ^ Longhi, Jim (1997). "Woody, Cisco and Me". Random House. ISBN 0252022769. 
  49. ^ Klein, Woody Guthrie, pp. 302–03
  50. ^ Klein, Woody Guthrie, p. 312
  51. ^ Klein, Woody Guthrie, p. 344–351
  52. ^ Klein, Woody Guthrie, p. 364–65
  53. ^ WoodyGuthrie.org. "Woody Guthrie Archives". http://www.woodyguthrie.org/archives/archivesindex.htm. Retrieved 2007-04-10. 
  54. ^Mazor, Barry. "Wall Street Journal Interview: 'A Cultural Conversation With Ramblin' Jack'". http://ramblinjack.com/bio2.html. Retrieved 2007-07-17. 
  55. ^ Klein, Woody Guthrie, p. 388–94, 399
  56. ^ Klein, Woody Guthrie, p. 418–19
  57. ^ Klein, Woody Guthrie, p. 433–39
  58. ^ Klein, Woody Guthrie, p. 460
  59. ^ Arévalo J, Wojcieszek J, Conneally PM (June 2001). "Tracing Woody Guthrie and Huntington's disease". Semin Neurol 21 (2): 209–23. doi:10.1055/s-2001-15269. PMID 11442329. 
  60. ^ Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 394
  61. ^ Dylan, Chronicles, Volume One, p. 98.
  62. ^ Dylan, Chronicles, Volume One, p. 244.
  63. ^ "Let Us Now Praise Little Men". Time Magazine. May 31, 1983. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,896825,00.html. Retrieved 2007-04-10. 
  64. ^ Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 285
  65. ^ BMI News. 3rd Annual Woody Guthrie Fellowship Program Opens. September 21, 2007. Retrieved on November 13, 2007.
  66. ^ DVD Talk. Nora Guthrie Interview. Retrieved on January 28, 2008
  67. ^ CD Bay. CD Release Announcement. Retrieved on June 15, 2009.
  68. ^ http://www.jonathabrooke.com/music/the-works/?url=music/the-works
  69. ^ WoodyGuthrie.com. Woody Guthrie Coalition Board of Directors. Retrieved on September 27, 2007.
  70. ^ Eshleman, Annette C. Concert Review - Woody Guthrie Folk Festival. Dirty Linen, #103, December 2002/January 2003. Retrieved on September 21, 2007.
  71. ^ Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne. FindArticles.com. Bound for Glory - Indeed! Review of Ramblin' Man: The Life and Times of Woody Guthrie by Ed Cray. March 2005. Retrieved on September 17, 2007.
  72. ^ 3rd Annual Woody Guthrie Free Folk Festival. July 12–16, 2000. (Program booklet.)
  73. ^ WoodyGuthrie.org. Happy Joyous Hanukkah & Wonder Wheel. Retrieved October 13, 2008.
  74. ^ CDBaby.com. The Klezmatics: Wonder Wheel - lyrics by Woody Guthrie. Retrieved October 14, 2008.
  75. ^ CD Universe. What's Bin Did And What's Bin Hid by Donovan. Retrieved on November 27, 2007.
  76. ^ WoodyGuthrie.org. Harold Leventhal: The Fifth Weaver. Retrieved on November 14, 2007.
  77. ^ The Band's website. Various Artists: A Tribute to Woody Guthrie, Part 1. Retrieved on November 14, 2007.
  78. ^ http://www.bobdylan.com/#/songs/last-thoughts-woody-guthrie
  79. ^ Fretbase, Play Woody Guthrie's This Land is Your Land
  80. ^ Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. American Music Masters Series. Retrieved February 12, 2008.
  81. ^ Barden, Tom. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum's American Masters Series: Woody Guthrie, 1996-Jimmie Rodgers, 1997-Robert Johnson, 1998.Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 112, No. 446, (Autumn 1999), p.551-4. Retrieved February 12, 2008
  82. ^ Robicheau, Paul. Ellis Paul’s got Woody Guthrie under his skin. Boston Globe, September 20, 1996.
  83. ^ Santelli, Robert. Hard Travelin': The Life and Legacy of Woody Guthrie, Wesleyan University Press, 1999. ISBN 0819563919
  84. ^ Righteous Babe Website. Till we Outnumber 'Em track listing.Retrieved on April 9, 2007.
  85. ^ Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. Archive: Past Exhibitions. Retrieved on November 13, 2007.
  86. ^ Propaganda Media Group, Inc. Ribbon of Highway - Endless Skyway: Concert in the Spirit of Woody Guthrie. Retrieved on February 6, 2007.
  87. ^ RibbonofHighway.com. Ribbon of Highway, Endless Skyway website. Retrieved on January 25, 2007.
  88. ^Martinez, Rebekah. Tribute to Woody Guthrie Tour makes a stop in Conroe Feb. 16, The Courier, (Conroe, TX.), February 7, 2003. Retrieved on February 7, 2007.
  89. ^Fairleigh Dickinson University. 15th Annual Folk Alliance Conference: Nashville Sings Woody. Retrieved on February 6, 2007.
  90. ^ BrooklynVegan.com.Woody Guthrie Benefit @ Webster Hall. Retrieved on November 8, 2007.
  91. ^ [1], quoting from "Woody Guthrie: A Life."
  92. ^ [2]
  93. ^ [3]
  94. ^ [4]
  95. ^ [5]
  96. ^ Beacon Sloop Club Retrieved 2008-08-28
  97. ^ Rock and Roll Hall of Fame website. Woody Guthrie biography. Retrieved on November 3, 2007.
  98. ^ Grammy Foundation website. Grammy Lifetime Achievement Awards - Past Recipients. Retrieved on November 3, 2007.
  99. ^ Netstate.com. The Washington State Folk Song. Retrieved on November 27, 2007.
  100. ^ The Peace Abbey. The Courage of Conscience Award. Retrieved April 15, 2008.
  101. ^ United States Postal Service. Legends of American Music. June 26, 1998. Retrieved on January 7, 2008.
  102. ^ Woody Guthrie Birthday Bash website
  103. ^ www.woodyguthrie.org/Lyrics/Im_Shipping_Up_To_Boston.htm
  104. ^ "CD Baby: THE KLEZMATICS: Wonder Wheel — lyrics by Woody Guthrie". Cdbaby.com. http://cdbaby.com/cd/klezmatics. Retrieved 2008-12-26. 
  105. ^ Elliott, Matt. Hometown honor for Guthrie, 3 others. Tulsa World, April 11, 2007, p. A2. Retrieved on January 9, 2007.
  106. ^ Himes, Geoffrey. Dead 40 Years, Woody Guthrie Stays Busy. The New York Times, September 2, 2007. Retrieved on February 8, 2008.
  107. ^ Wilk, Tom. Woody: Wired in Newark. New Jersey Monthly, March 10, 2008. Retrieved December 11, 2009.
  108. ^ Tackett, Travis. Rounder Recording Artists garner 6 Grammy® Nominations. Bluegrass Journal.com. December 3, 2009. Retrieved December 11, 2009.
  109. ^ WoodyGuthrie.org. Selected Discography. Retrieved on November 14, 2007.

Printed sources

Further reading/listening

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

The note of hope is the only note that can help us or save us from falling to the bottom of the heap of evolution, because, largely, about all a human being is, anyway, is just a hoping machine, a working machine...

Woodrow Wilson Guthrie (14 July 19123 October 1967) was a prolific American folk musician, most famous for his song "This Land Is Your Land" (1940).



My eyes has been my camera taking pictures of the world and my songs has been my messages that I tried to scatter across the back sides and along the steps of the fire escapes and on the window sills and through the dark halls...
    • Message he would variously write or post on his guitar.
  • This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright #154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ours, cause we don't give a darn. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that's all we wanted to do.
    • Message on mimeographed copies of lyrics distributed to fans in the 1930s as quoted by Pete Seeger in an NPR interview "Pete Seeger remembers Woody" (1996)
  • Ever'body might be just one big soul,
    Well it looks that a-way to me.

    Everywhere that you look, in the day or night,
    That's where I'm a-gonna be, Ma,
    That's where I'm a-gonna be.

    Wherever little children are hungry and cry,
    Wherever people ain't free.
    Wherever men are fightin' for their rights,
    That's where I'm a-gonna be, Ma.
    That's where I'm a-gonna be.

Let me be known as just the man that told you something you already knew...
  • My eyes has been my camera taking pictures of the world and my songs has been my messages that I tried to scatter across the back sides and along the steps of the fire escapes and on the window sills and through the dark halls...
    • Bound For Glory (1943)
  • One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple
    By the Relief Office I saw my people —
    As they stood hungry, I stood there wondering if
    God blessed America for me.
    • Final stanza of manuscript notes for "God Blessed America" which later became "This Land Is Your Land" (23 February 1940)
  • All you can write is what you see.
    • Comment written on his first manuscript notes for "God Blessed America" (23 February 1940); quoted in Woody Guthrie: A Life (1981) by Joe Klein, p. 136
  • I have hoped as many hopes and dreamed so many dreams, seen them swept aside by weather, and blown away by men, washed away in my own mistakes, that — I use to wonder if it wouldn't be better just to haul off and quit hoping. Just protect my own inner brain, my own mind and heart, by drawing it up into a hard knot, and not having any more hopes or dreams at all. Pull in my feelings, and call back all of my sentiments — and not let any earthly event move me in either direction, either cause me to hate, to fear, to love, to care, to take sides, to argue the matter at all — and, yet ... there are certain good times, and pleasures that I never can forget, no matter how much I want to, because the pleasures, and the displeasures, the good times and the bad, are really all there is to me.
    And these pleasures that you cannot ever forget are the yeast that always starts working in your mind again, and it gets in your thoughts again, and in your eyes again, and then, all at once, no matter what has happened to you, you are building a brand new world again, based and built on the mistakes, the wreck, the hard luck and trouble of the old one.
  • The note of hope is the only note that can help us or save us from falling to the bottom of the heap of evolution, because, largely, about all a human being is, anyway, is just a hoping machine, a working machine, and any song that says, the pleasures I have seen in all of my trouble, are the things I never can get — don't worry — the human race will sing this way as long as there is a human to race.
    The human race is a pretty old place.
    • "Notes about Music" (29 March 1946) also quoted in Ramblin' Man: The Life and Times of Woody Guthrie (2004) by Ed Cray
I have hoped as many hopes and dreamed so many dreams, seen them swept aside by weather, and blown away by men, washed away in my own mistakes...
  • Let me be known as just the man that told you something you already knew.
    • "Notes about Music" (29 March 1946), quoted in "Walt Whitman and Woody Guthrie : American Proghet-singers and their People" in: Journal of American Studies (April 1990), p. 55
  • I worked in your orchards of peaches and prunes
    I slept on the ground in the light of the moon
    On the edge of the city you'll see us and then
    We come with the dust and we go with the wind
    • "Pastures of Plenty" (1941)
These pleasures that you cannot ever forget are the yeast that always starts working in your mind again, and it gets in your thoughts again, and in your eyes again, and then, all at once, no matter what has happened to you, you are building a brand new world again...
  • Okemah was one of the singiest, square dancingest, drinkingest, yellingest, preachingest, walkingest, talkingest, laughingest, cryingest, shootingest, fist fightingest, bleedingest, gamblingest, gun, club and razor carryingest of our ranch towns and farm towns, because it blossomed out into one of our first Oil Boom Towns.
    • Pastures Of Plenty: A Self Portrait (1990), p. 3
I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built, I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work.
  • I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard traveling. ... I am out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood.
    I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built, I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work.

    And the songs that I sing are made up for the most part by all sorts of folks just about like you. I could hire out to the other side, the big money side, and get several dollars every week just to quit singing my own kind of songs and to sing the kind that knock you down still farther and the ones that poke fun at you even more and the ones that make you think you've not any sense at all. But I decided a long time ago that I'd starve to death before I'd sing any such songs as that. The radio waves and your movies and your jukeboxes and your songbooks are already loaded down and running over with such no good songs as that anyhow.
    • Statement quoted in Prophet Singer: The Voice And Vision of Woody Guthrie (2007) by Mark Allan Jackson. There are a few slight variants of this statement, which seems to have originated in a performance monologue.

This Land Is Your Land (1940; 1944)

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land is made for you and me.
"This Land Is Your Land" was written primarily on 23 February 1940 as "God Blessed America", but was not recorded until 1944, after the title and a few of the lyrics were altered. Significant variations exist among various published and recorded versions of the song. - Full lyrics at Wikisource
  • This land is your land, this land is my land
    From California to the New York Island
    From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
    This land is made for you and me.
  • As I go walking this ribbon of highway
    I see above me the endless skyway
    And all around me the wind keeps saying:
    This land is made for you and me.
Nobody living can ever stop me
As I go walking my freedom highway
Nobody living can make me turn back
This land is made for you and me.
  • When the sun came shining as I was strolling,
    And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
    As the fog was lifting a voice come chanting:
    This land was made for you and me.
    • This is one of the more variable of the stanzas; other renditions include:
      • Where the wind is blowing I go a strolling
        The wheat field waving and the dust clouds rolling
        The fog is lifting and the wind is saying:
        This land is made for you and me.
      • The sun comes shining as I was strolling,
        The wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
        The fog was lifting as a voice come chanting:
        This land was made for you and me.
  • Nobody living can ever stop me
    As I go walking my freedom highway
    Nobody living can make me turn back
    This land was made for you and me.
    • The last line of this last stanza is also sometimes rendered "This land is made for you and me."

Quotes about Guthrie

Harsh voiced and nasal, his guitar hanging like a tire iron on a rusty rim, there is nothing sweet about Woody, and there is nothing sweet about the songs he sings. But there is something more important for those who will listen. There is the will of the people to endure and fight against oppression. I think we call this the American spirit. ~ John Steinbeck
  • Woody Guthrie was what folks who don't believe in anything would call an anomaly. Admittedly, the intersection of space and time at the corner of July 14, 1912, and Okemah, Oklahoma, was a long shot to produce anything like a national treasure.
    Woody was born in one of the most desolate places in America, just in time to come of age in the worst period in our history. ... He became the living embodiment of everything a people's revolution is supposed to be about: that working people have dignity, intelligence and value above and beyond the market's demand for their labor. ... For me personally, Woody is my hero of heroes and the only person on earth that I will go to my grave regretting that I never met.
  • Now they sing out his praises on every distant shore,
    But so few remember what he was fightin' for.

    Oh why sing the songs and forget about the aim,
    He wrote them for a reason, why not sing them for the same?
    And now he's bound for a glory all his own,
    And now he's bound for glory.
    • Phil Ochs in "Bound For Glory (The Story of Woody Guthrie)" (1963)
  • I remember the night he wrote the song "Tom Joad." He said, "Pete, do you know where I can get a typewriter?"
    I said, "I'm staying with someone who has one."
    "Well, I got to write a ballad," he said. "I don't usually write ballads to order, but Victor wants me to do a whole album of Dust Bowl songs, and they say they want one about Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath." ... Woody had a half-gallon jug of wine with him, sat down and started typing away. He would stand up every few seconds and test out a verse on his guitar and sit down and type some more. About one o'clock my friend and I got so sleepy we couldn't stay awake. In the morning we found Woody curled up on the floor under the table; the half gallon of wine was almost empty and the completed ballad was sitting near the typewriter.
    And it is one of his masterpieces.
    • Pete Seeger in The Incompleat Folksinger (1972), p. 44
  • We must look beyond the songs to find the full importance of Woody Guthrie. As a song-maker, he has earned the stature he deserves. But his reputation as a writer, poet and philosopher is still underground and must he brought into the light. When his songs, poems, and essays are studied in our American literature classes, this omission may be righted.
    • Robert Shelton, in his introduction to Born To Win (1967) by Woody Guthrie
  • Woody is just Woody. Thousands of people do not know he has any other name. He is just a voice and a guitar. He sings the songs of a people and I suspect that he is, in a way, that people. Harsh voiced and nasal, his guitar hanging like a tire iron on a rusty rim, there is nothing sweet about Woody, and there is nothing sweet about the songs he sings. But there is something more important for those who will listen. There is the will of the people to endure and fight against oppression. I think we call this the American spirit.
    • John Steinbeck; as quoted in Woody Guthrie: A Life (1981) by Joe Klein, p. 160.

External links

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Simple English

Woodrow Wilson Guthrie, better known as Woody Guthrie (July 14, 1912October 3, 1967), was an American folk musician and songwriter, of the 20th century.

Guthrie wrote over a thousand songs during his career.[1] His more famous songs include "This Land Is Your Land", "Mail Myself To You", "This Train", "Bound For Glory", and "Hobo's Lullaby". One of his most famous albums was titled Dust Bowl Ballads. He sang about the Great Depression, and the problems faced by farmers at the time of the Dust Bowl, when erosion and drought ruined millions of acres of farmland.

Guthrie recorded a series of songs for the United States government, about sexually transmitted diseases, that served as warnings to the public. Much of the time he appeared opposed to governments as he saw them, and also politics. Guthrie identified strongly with the Industrial Workers of the World, called the "Wobblies", and also the Communist Party, but he never joined either one. His songs, and his interpretations of older songs, spoke to people of many different beliefs. Many of his songs used old tunes, that he gave new words.

The composer names of most folk songs are lost to history, or their songs have been adapted so many times that they completely change form. Even though Guthrie and his songs were well-known, they came to be accepted as genuine folk songs. They appeared in songbooks, and were performed and recorded by many different artists, and also sung by amateurs and families at home. Guthrie worked with or influenced many later musicians. "Ramblin' Jack" Elliott was a protegé of his, who later went off on his own.

Guthie's career was cut short by a disease called Huntington's Chorea, which over time left him in a wheelchair, then finally unable to get out of bed, or even hold a guitar. He spent many years in a hospital, visited by his family and friends. Fellow folk musician Pete Seeger was a regular visitor.

One day the young Bob Dylan came to visit Guthrie. He had hitchhiked his way from Minnesota to New York, to meet Guthrie and try to become a professional musician. He played Guthrie "A Song to Woody", which he'd written as a tribute. Guthrie liked Dylan, and invited him back. Dylan stayed with the Guthrie family, and became friends with thirteen-year-old Arlo Guthrie, who also became a musician.

Guthrie died in 1967, from the effects of Huntington's Chorea. There have been many tributes made to Guthrie and his music through the years. Actor David Carradine played him in the movie Bound for Glory. Guthrie's songs are still sung today, and are a symbol of American life.

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