Woody Guthrie with guitar labeled "This Machine Kills Fascists" (1943)
|Birth name||Woodrow Wilson Guthrie|
July 14, 1912|
Okemah, Oklahoma, United States
October 3, 1967
New York City, New York, United States
|Genres||Folk, protest music|
|Instruments||Vocals, guitar, harmonica, mandolin, fiddle|
|Associated acts||Almanac Singers|
|Martin 000-18, Gibson Southern Jumbo, Gibson J-45|
Woodrow Wilson "Woody" Guthrie (July 14, 1912 – October 3, 1967) was 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." Many of his recorded songs are archived in the Library of Congress. Such songwriters as Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Bruce Springsteen, Robert Hunter, Harry Chapin, John Mellencamp, Pete Seeger, Andy Irvine, Joe Strummer, Billy Bragg, Jerry Garcia, Jay Farrar, Bob Weir, Jeff Tweedy, Bob Childers and Tom Paxton have acknowledged Guthrie as a major influence.
Many of his songs are about his experiences in the Dust Bowl era during the Great Depression when Guthrie traveled with displaced farmers from Oklahoma to California and learned their traditional folk and blues songs, earning him the nickname the "Dust Bowl Troubadour." Throughout his life Guthrie was associated with United States Communist groups, though he was seemingly not a member of any.
Guthrie was married three times and fathered eight children, including American folk musician Arlo Guthrie. 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.
- Early life: 1912–30 1.1
1930s: Traveling 1.2
- California 1.2.1
1940s: Building a Legacy 1.3
- New York City 1.3.1
- Pacific Northwest 1.3.2
- Almanac Singers 1.3.3
- Bound for Glory 1.3.4
- The Asch recordings 1.3.5
- World War II years 1.3.6
- Mermaid Avenue 1.3.7
1950s and 1960s 1.4
- Deteriorating health 1.4.1
- Folk revival and Guthrie's death 1.4.2
- Family 1.4.3
Musical legacy 2
- Foundation, Center and Archives 2.1
- Folk Festival 2.2
- Jewish songs 2.3
- Tributes 2.4
- Copyright controversy 2.5
Posthumous honors and published works 3
- Novel 3.1
- Selected discography 4
- See also 5
- Printed sources 6.1
- Further reading/listening 7
- External links 8
Early life: 1912–30
Guthrie was born in Okemah, a small town in Okfuskee County, Oklahoma, the son of Nora Belle (née Sherman) and Charles Edward Guthrie. 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.
Charles 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. When Charles was making stump speeches, he would often be accompanied by his son. Charles Guthrie was involved in the 1911 lynching of Laura and Lawrence Nelson. His son wrote three songs about the event and said that his father was later a member of the revived Ku Klux Klan.
Guthrie's early family life was affected by several fires, including one that caused the loss of his family's home in Okemah. His sister Clara later died in a coal-oil (used for heating) fire when Guthrie was seven, and Guthrie's father was severely burned in a subsequent coal-oil fire. The circumstances of these fires, especially that in which Charley was injured, remain unclear. It is unknown whether they were accidents or the result of actions by Guthrie's mother Nora, who was afflicted with Huntington's disease, although the family did not know this at the time. It leads to dementia as well as muscular effects.
Nora Guthrie was eventually committed to the Oklahoma Hospital for the Insane, where she died in 1930 from Huntington's disease. Judging from the circumstances of her father's death by drowning, researchers suspect that George Sherman suffered from the same hereditary disease.
When Nora Guthrie was institutionalized, Woody Guthrie was 14. His father Charley was living and working in 
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. Guthrie easily learned old ballads and traditional English & Scots 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.
In 1929, Guthrie's father sent for his son to come to Texas, but little changed for the aspiring musician. Guthrie, then 18, was reluctant to attend high school classes in Pampa and spent much time learning songs by
- Woody Guthrie at DMOZ
- The Woody Guthrie Center
- The Woody Guthrie Foundation and Archives
- Woody Guthrie and the Archive of American Folk Song: Correspondence, 1940–1950, Library of Congress, American Folklife Center. American Memory presentation of archival correspondence written by Woody Guthrie to the staff of the Archive of American Folk Song. Retrieved August 31, 2009
- Woody Guthrie in NYC, 1943 – slideshow by Life magazine
- Woody Guthrie's Discography on Smithsonian Folkways
- Songfacts interview with Anna Canoni (Guthrie's granddaughter)
- Works by or about Woody Guthrie in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture – Guthrie, Woody
- Woody Guthrie at Find a Grave
- Woody Guthrie discography at Discogs
- Voices of Oklahoma interview with Nora Guthrie. First person interview conducted with Nora Guthrie speaking about her father, Woody Guthrie, on October 7, 2010. Original audio and transcript archived with Voices of Oklahoma oral history project.
- The short film "The Fight for Life (1940)" is available for free download at the Internet Archive 
- The short film "The Columbia (1949)" is available for free download at the Internet Archive 
- Woody at 100: The Woody Guthrie Centennial Collection by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings
- Hogeland, William (March 14, 2004), "Emulating the Real and Vital Guthrie, Not St. Woody", New York Times.
- Down Home Radio Show. LeadBelly & Woody Guthrie live on WNYC Radio, Dec. 1940. Audio re-broadcast of a 1940 radio show. Retrieved on January 29, 2008.
- Earle, Steve. Woody Guthrie. The Nation, July 21, 2003. Retrieved on January 29, 2008.
- Electronic Frontier Foundation. Scanned images of some of Woody Guthrie's original works. Retrieved on January 29, 2008.
- Guthrie, Mary Jo. Woody's Road: Woody Guthrie's Letters Home, Drawings, Photos, and Other Unburied Treasures Paradigm Publishers, 2012. ISBN 978-1-61205-219-9
- Jackson, Mark Allen. Prophet Singer: The Voice and Vision of Woody Guthrie. University Press of Mississippi, January, 2007. ISBN 978-1-60473-102-6
- La Chapelle, Peter. Is Country Music Inherently Conservative? History News Network. Nov. 12, 2007. Retrieved on January 29, 2008.
- Kaufman, Will (2011). Woody Guthrie, American Radical University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-03602-6
- La Chapelle, Peter. Proud to Be an Okie: Cultural Politics, Country Music, and Migration to Southern California. University of California Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-520-24888-5 (hb); ISBN 978-0-520-24889-2 (pb)
- Library of Congress. Timeline of Woody Guthrie (1912–1967). Retrieved on January 29, 2008.
- Library of Congress. Woody Guthrie and the Archive of American Folk Song: Correspondence, 1940–1950. Retrieved on January 29, 2008.
- Marroquin, Danny. Walking the Long Road. PopMatters.com. Aug. 4, 2006. Retrieved on January 29, 2008.
- Pascal, Rich. "Celebrating the Real America," http://www.canberratimes.com.au/entertainment/music/celebrating-a-real-voice-of-america-20120713-21zdt.html.
- Public Broadcasting Service. Woody Guthrie: Ain't Got No Home. Documentary from PBS' American Masters series, July 2006. Retrieved on January 29, 2008.
- University of Oregon. Roll On Columbia: Woody Guthrie and the Bonneville Power Administration. Video documentary. Retrieved on January 29, 2008.
- University of Virginia. Guthrie singing "This Land Is Your Land". MP3 recording. Retrieved on January 29, 2008.
- Symphony Silicon Valley Concert Recordings. Symphonic Variations on a Song by Woody GuthrieDavid Amram's Recorded September 30, 2007. Audio recording. Retrieved on January 11, 2008.
- WoodyGuthrie.de. Woody Guthrie Related Audio. Miscellaneous Real Audio files featuring Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Alan Lomax and others. Retrieved on January 29, 2008.
- Cray, Ed (2004). Ramblin Man: The Life and Times of Woody Guthrie.
- Kaufman, Will (2011). Woody, Guthrie: American Radical.
- Library of Congress. Related Material – Woody Guthrie Sound Recordings at the American Folklife Center. Retrieved on November 27, 2007.
- Alarik, Scott. Robert Burns unplugged. The Boston Globe, August 7, 2005. Retrieved on December 5, 2007.
- Christine A. Spivey. "This Land is Your land, This Land is My Land: Folk Music, Communism, and the Red Scare as a Part of the American Landscape". Student Historical Journal 1996–1997, Loyola University New Orleans, 1996. Archived from the original on 2008-06-25. Retrieved July 12, 2012.
- Reitwiesner, William Addams. Ancestry of Arlo Guthrie. Retrieved on November 7, 2007.
- Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 11.
Jackson, Mark Allan. Prophet Singer: The Voice and Vision of Woody Guthrie. University Press of Mississippi, 2008, p. 136, 157ff.
- See Guthrie, Woody. Don’t Kill My Baby and My Son. 1966, accessed August 25, 2010
- Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 30.
- "Happy 100th Birthday Woody Guthrie!". Celebrity Diagnosis. 2012-07-14. Retrieved 2012-12-18.
- Klein, Woody Guthrie, pp. 26, 32, 39
- Klein, Woody Guthrie, pp. 1, 4
- 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.
- Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 28.
- Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 44.
- "CAS – Central Authentication Service". Oxfordmusiconline.com.ezproxy2.library.arizona.edu. Retrieved 2014-04-18.
- Klein, Woody Guthrie, p. 62.
- Guthrie Family tree
- Curtis, Gene. Only in Oklahoma: This man was our man. Tulsa World, March 17, 2007. Retrieved on November 6, 2007.
- Klein, Woody Guthrie, pp. 90–92, 103–12
- Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 139.
- Kaufman, William (2011). Woody Guthrie: American Radical. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
- 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.
- Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 151.
- Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 153.
- Corn, David. Jerusalem Calling, The Nation, October 17, 2002. Retrieved on November 7, 2007.
- Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 161.
- Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 174.
- Klein, Woody Guthrie, p. 144.
- Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 165.
- Klein, Woody Guthrie, p. 287.
- Joe Klein, Woody Guthrie, p. 375.
- Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 168.
- Cray, Ramblin Man p. 188.
- Cray, Ramblin Man, pp. 194, 195.
- Ed Cray (17 March 2006). Ramblin' Man: The Life and Times of Woody Guthrie. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 241.
- Cray, Ramblin Man p. 197.
- Cray, Ramblin Man p. 200.
- Cray, Ramblin Man p. 199.
- Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 209.
- Klein, Woody Guthrie, pp. 195, 196, 202, 205, 212
- Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 213.
- Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 266.
- Klein, Woody Guthrie, p.192-93,195–231
- Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 220.
- Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 216.
- Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 231.
- People's Songs Inc. People's Songs Newsletter, Vol 1. No 1.. 1945. Old Town School of Folk Music resource center collection.
- Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 200, 201.
- Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 200.
- Amazon.com. (Unknown Binding).Bound for Glory Retrieved November 27, 2007.
- LaBorie, Tim. Woody Guthrie biography. MusicianGuide.com. Retrieved on January 8, 2008.
- Internet Movie Database. Bound for Glory. Retrieved on November 26, 2007.
- Klein, Woody Guthrie, p. 417.
- Klein, Woody Guthrie, pp. 277–80, 287–91.
- Robert Cressman, The Official Chronology of the U.S. Navy in World War II, Naval Institute Press (1999), p. 180.
- U-Boat NetSea Porpoise
- Ronald D. Cohen, Woody Guthrie: Writing America's Songs ,pp. 28-29.
- Klein, Woody Guthrie, pp. 302–03.
- Klein, Woody Guthrie, p. 312.
- Klein, Woody Guthrie, p. 344–351.
- Klein, Woody Guthrie, p. 364–65.
- Video: The Columbia (1949).
- Carriker, Robert C. (Spring 2001). "Ten Dollars a Song: Woody Guthrie Sells His Talent to the Bonneville Power Administration". Columbia Magazine 15 (1).
- WoodyGuthrie.org. "Woody Guthrie Archives". Retrieved 2007-04-10.
- Mazor, Barry. "'"Wall Street Journal Interview: 'A Cultural Conversation With Ramblin' Jack. Retrieved 2007-07-17.
- Klein, Woody Guthrie, p. 388–94, 399.
- Klein, Woody Guthrie, p. 418–19.
- Klein, Woody Guthrie, p. 433–39
- Klein, Woody Guthrie, p. 460.
- Arévalo J, Wojcieszek J, Conneally PM (June 2001). "Tracing Woody Guthrie and Huntington's disease". Semin Neurol 21 (2): 209–23.
- Cray, pg 394.
- Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 394.
- Dylan, Chronicles, Volume One, p. 98.
- Dylan, Chronicles, Volume One, p. 244.
- "Let Us Now Praise Little Men". Time Magazine. May 31, 1983. Retrieved 2007-04-10.
- Cray, Ramblin Man, p. 285.
- BMI News. 3rd Annual Woody Guthrie Fellowship Program Opens. September 21, 2007. Retrieved on November 13, 2007.
- New York Times, December 28, 2011. Retrieved on April 22, 2013.
- Tulsa World. . April 21, 2013. Retrieved on April 22, 2013.
- "Archives". Woody Guthrie Center. Retrieved 2014-04-18.
- DVD Talk. Nora Guthrie Interview. Retrieved on January 28, 2008.
- CD Baby. CD Release Announcement. Retrieved on June 15, 2009.
- "The Works". Jonatha Brooke. Retrieved 2012-01-13.
- WoodyGuthrie.com. Woody Guthrie Coalition Board of Directors. Retrieved on September 27, 2007.
- Eshleman, Annette C. Concert Review – Woody Guthrie Folk Festival. Dirty Linen, #103, December 2002/January 2003. Retrieved on September 21, 2007.
- 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.
- 3rd Annual Woody Guthrie Free Folk Festival. July 12–16, 2000 (Program booklet).
- WoodyGuthrie.org. Happy Joyous Hanukkah & Wonder Wheel. Retrieved October 13, 2008.
- "CD Baby: THE KLEZMATICS: Wonder Wheel — lyrics by Woody Guthrie". CD Baby. Retrieved 2008-12-26.
- WoodyGuthrie.org. Harold Leventhal: The Fifth Weaver. Retrieved on November 14, 2007.
- The Band's website. Various Artists: A Tribute to Woody Guthrie, Part 1. Retrieved on November 14, 2007.
- "Official Bob Dylan Site | The Official Bob Dylan Site". Bobdylan.com. 2012-01-23. Retrieved 2012-03-23.
- Fretbase, Play Woody Guthrie's This Land is Your Land
- Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. American Music Masters Series. Retrieved February 12, 2008.
- 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.
- Robicheau, Paul. Ellis Paul’s got Woody Guthrie under his skin. Boston Globe, September 20, 1996.
- Santelli, Robert. Hard Travelin': The Life and Legacy of Woody Guthrie, Wesleyan University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-8195-6391-9
- Righteous Babe Website. track listing.Till we Outnumber 'Em Retrieved on April 9, 2007.
- Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. Archive: Past Exhibitions. Retrieved on November 13, 2007.
- Propaganda Media Group, Inc. Ribbon of Highway – Endless Skyway: Concert in the Spirit of Woody Guthrie. Retrieved on February 6, 2007.
- RibbonofHighway.com. Ribbon of Highway, Endless Skyway website. Retrieved on January 25, 2007.
- 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.
- "15th Annual Folk Alliance Conference: Nashville Sings Woody". Fairleigh Dickinson University. Archived from the original on 2006-05-22. Retrieved July 12, 2012.
- BrooklynVegan.com.Woody Guthrie Benefit @ Webster Hall. Retrieved on November 8, 2007.
- "Woody Guthrie free culture". Creative Commons. 2004-04-05. Retrieved 2012-12-18.
- "Woody Guthrie Songs Publisher Contact". Woodyguthrie.org. Retrieved 2011-03-27.
- "This Land | Funny Video Animation by JibJab". Sendables.jibjab.com. 2004-07-09. Retrieved 2011-03-27.
- "This Song Belongs to You and Me | Electronic Frontier Foundation". Eff.org. 2004-08-24. Retrieved 2011-03-27.
- "Arlo Guthrie on "This Land" parody". Boing Boing. 2004-08-04. Retrieved 2011-03-27.
- "This Song Belongs to You and Me | Electronic Frontier Foundation". Eff.org. 2004-08-24. Retrieved 2011-06-28.
- The Carter Family: 1927-1934, April 30, 2002, Jsp Records; ASIN: B00005TPB7.
- Beacon Sloop Club Retrieved August 28, 2008.
- Rock and Roll Hall of Fame website. Woody Guthrie biography Retrieved on November 3, 2007.
- Grammy Foundation website. Grammy Lifetime Achievement Awards – Past Recipients. Retrieved on November 3, 2007.
- Netstate.com. The Washington State Folk Song. Retrieved on November 27, 2007.
- The Peace Abbey. The Courage of Conscience Award. Retrieved April 15, 2008.
- United States Postal Service. Legends of American Music. June 26, 1998. Retrieved on January 7, 2008.
- Woody Guthrie Birthday Bash website
- I'm Shipping Up To Boston" by Woody Guthrie""". Woodyguthrie.org. Retrieved 2011-03-27.
- "Oklahoma Hall of Fame". Retrieved November 16, 2012.
- Elliott, Matt. Hometown honor for Guthrie, 3 others. Tulsa World, April 11, 2007, p. A2. Retrieved on January 9, 2007.
- Himes, Geoffrey. "Dead 40 Years, Woody Guthrie Stays Busy", The New York Times, September 2, 2007. Retrieved February 8, 2008.
- Wilk, Tom. Woody: Wired in Newark. New Jersey Monthly, March 10, 2008. Retrieved December 11, 2009.
- Tackett, Travis. Rounder Recording Artists garner 6 Grammy Nominations. Bluegrass Journal.com. December 3, 2009. Retrieved December 11, 2009.
- Phil Gallo (March 9, 2012). "'"Jay Farrar Tackles Woody Guthrie in 'New Multitudes. Billboard. Retrieved March 14, 2012.
- Joe Heim (2012-07-09). "Woody Guthrie at 100: American struggles and dreams". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 18, 2012.
- "12th Annual Independent Music Awards Winners Announced!" Independent Music Awards, June 11, 2013. Retrieved September 4, 2013.
- Neary, Lynn (February 5, 2013). "Woody Guthrie's 'House Of Earth' Calls 'This Land' Home".
- WoodyGuthrie.org. Selected Discography. Retrieved on November 14, 2007.
- List of songs by Woody Guthrie
- List of albums by Woody Guthrie
- List of peace activists
- Pete Seeger
- Arlo Guthrie
- Lynching of Laura and Lawrence Nelson
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.
House of Earth, a long-lost novel written by Guthrie in 1947, was published on February 5, 2013, by Harper under actor Johnny Depp's publishing imprint, Infinitum Nihil - Edited by Douglas Brinkley with an introduction by Johnny Depp. Guthrie apparently was unable to have the novel published during his lifetime. House of Earth is about a couple who build a house made of clay and earth to withstand the dust bowl's brutal weather. The book contains explicit sexual material, which may have contributed to his inability to get it published.
On April 27, 2013, The Woody Guthrie Center opened in Tulsa, Oklahoma's Brady District.
On July 10, 2012, Smithsonian Folkways released the Woody at 100: The Woody Guthrie Centennial Collection, a 150-page large-format book with three CDs containing 57 tracks. The set also contains 21 previously unreleased performances and six never before released original songs, including Woody’s first known—and recently discovered—recordings from 1937. The box set received two nominations for the 55th Annual Grammy Awards, including Best Historical Album and Best Boxed Or Special Limited Edition Package. It also won an Independent Music Award for Best Compilation Album in 2013.
The Grammy Museum was to have a tribute week in April 2012 and the Songwriters Hall of Fame a tribute in June. A four-disc box Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions by Billy Bragg and Wilco, with 17 unreleased songs and a documentary, was planned for April release.
In the centennial year of Guthrie's birth another album of newly composed songs on his lyrics has been released: New Multitudes. On March 10, 2012, there was a tribute concert at the Brady Theater in Tulsa, Oklahoma. John Mellencamp, Arlo Guthrie, Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion, the Del McCoury Band and the Flaming Lips performed.
On February 10, 2008, The Live Wire: Woody Guthrie in Performance 1949, a rare live recording released in cooperation with the Woody Guthrie Foundation, was the recipient of a Grammy Award in the category Best Historical Album. 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.
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.
Also in 2006, Guthrie was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.
In 2005, the Boston-based punk band Dropkick Murphys recorded "I'm Shipping Up to Boston". The song's lyrics are from a poem written by Guthrie, and the music was composed by the band. The song was released in 2005 on the album The Warrior's Code and gained fame when it was used as part of the soundtrack for the 2006 movie The Departed.
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. The final concert in the series took place on July 14, 2012, Guthrie's 100th birthday.
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.
Guthrie was inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in 1997.
On September 26, 1992, The Peace Abbey, a multi-faith retreat center located in Sherborn, Massachusetts, awarded Guthrie its Courage of Conscience Award for his social activism and artistry in song which conveyed the plight of the common person.
Although Guthrie's catalog never brought him many awards while he was alive, in 1988 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in 2000 he was honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Pete Seeger had the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater. 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.
Posthumous honors and published works
The melody came from a tune that A.P.Carter had found and recorded with Sarah and Maybelle Carter prior to 1934 and was not original to Guthrie.
When JibJab published a parody of Guthrie's "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 Electronic Frontier Foundation (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). 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. Ludlow still claims copyright for this song, though the basis for this claim is unclear.
“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.” Currently a number of different organizations claim copyright for many of Guthrie's songs.
On the typescript submitted for copyright of "This Land Is Your Land", Guthrie wrote:
In "I'm Not There", a 2007 biographical movie about Bob Dylan, one of the characters introduced in the film as segments of Dylan's life is a young African-American boy who calls himself "Woody Guthrie". The purpose of this particular character was a reference to Dylan's youthful obsession with Guthrie. The fictional Woody also reflects the fictitious autobiographies that Dylan constructed during his early career as he established his own artistic identity. In the film there is even a scene where the fictional Woody visits the real Woody Guthrie as he lays ill and dying in a hospital in New York. (A reference to the times when a nineteen year old Dylan would regularly visit his idol, after learning of his whereabouts, while he was hospitalized in New York in the 1960s.)
 Woody and Marjorie Guthrie were honored at a musical celebration featuring
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. 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". 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.
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.
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. 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. 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. In 1999, Wesleyan University Press published a collection of essays from the conference and DiFranco's record label, Righteous Babe, released a compilation of the Severance Hall concert, 'Til We Outnumber 'Em, in 2000.
Since his death, artists have paid tribute to Guthrie by covering his songs or by dedicating songs to him. On January 20, 1968, three months after Guthrie's death, Harold Leventhal produced A Tribute to Woody Guthrie at New York City's Carnegie Hall. 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 both concerts were eventually released as LPs and later combined into one CD. The Irish folk singer, Christy Moore, was also strongly influenced by Woody in his seminal 1972 album Prosperous, giving renditions of "The Ludlow Massacre" and Bob Dylan's "Song to Woody". Dylan also penned Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie as a later tribute song to Guthrie. Andy Irvine, Moore's band mate in Irish group Planxty and lifelong admirer of Woody Guthrie, wrote "Never Tire Of The Road" (album: Rain On The Roof, 1996), a tribute song which he performs live by including Guthrie's verse "All of you fascists bound to lose". In 1986, Irvine also recorded both parts of Guthrie's "The Ballad Of Tom Joad" (under the title of "Tom Joad") with his other band Patrick Street. 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."
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. The album, produced by Danny Blume, was awarded a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary World Music Album.
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.
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. 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". 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.
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. The Native American (Diné) trio Blackfire also interpreted previously unreleased Guthrie lyrics at Nora's invitation. Jonatha Brooke's 2008 album, The Works, includes lyrics from the Woody Guthrie Archives set to music by Jonatha Brooke. The various artists compilation Note of Hope: A Celebration of Woody Guthrie was released in 2011. Nora selected Jay Farrar, Will Johnson, Anders Parker, and Yim Yames to record her father's lyrics for New Multitudes to honor the 100th anniversary of his birth and a box set of the Mermaid Avenue sessions was also released.
 The Woody Guthrie Center features, in addition to the archives, a museum focused on the life and the influence of Guthrie through his music, writings, art, and political activities. The museum is open to the public; the archives is open only to researchers by appointment. The archives contains thousands of items related to Guthrie, including original artwork, books, correspondence, lyrics, manuscripts, media, notebooks, periodicals, personal papers, photographs, scrapbooks, and other special collections. The Center officially opened on April 27, 2013. The Woody Guthrie Foundation is a
Foundation, Center and Archives
- Married: Mary Esta Jennings (1933–1943), Marjorie Greenblatt Mazia (1945–1953), Anneke van Kirk (1953–1954)
- Children (8): Gwendolyn Gail (1935–1976), Sue (1937–1978), Bill (1939–1962), Cathy Ann (1943–1947), Arlo Davy (1947–), Joady Ben (1948–), Nora (1950–), Lorinna Lynn (1954–1973)
- Grandfather of musician Sarah Lee Guthrie
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, a new generation of young people was inspired by folk singers such as 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, 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." After learning of Guthrie's whereabouts, Dylan regularly visited him. Guthrie died of complications of Huntington's disease on October 3, 1967. By the time of his death, his work had been discovered by a new audience, introduced to them through Dylan, Pete Seeger, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, his ex-wife Marjorie and other new members of the folk revival, and his son Arlo.
Folk revival and Guthrie's death
During the final few years of his life, Guthrie was largely alone except for family. Because of the progression of Huntington's, he was difficult to be around. Guthrie's illness was essentially untreated, because of a lack of information about the disease. 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. None of Guthrie's three remaining children with Marjorie have developed symptoms of Huntington's. Mary Guthrie's son Bill died in an auto-train accident in Pomona, California, at the age of 23. Mary's other children, Gwendolyn and Sue, suffered from the disease and both died at 41 years of age.
Guthrie, increasingly unable to control his muscles, was hospitalized at Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital in Morris County, NJ from 1956 to 1961, at Brooklyn State Hospital (now Kingsboro Psychiatric Center) in East Flatbush until 1966, and finally at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens Village, NY until his death in 1967. 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 the Sunday visits. This lasted until Guthrie was moved to the Brooklyn State Hospital, which was closer to Howard Beach, NY, where Marjorie and the children then lived.
Upon his return to California, Guthrie lived at the Theatricum Botanicum, a summer-stock type theatre founded and owned by Will Geer; with blacklisted singers and actors, he waited out the anti-communist political climate. As his health worsened, he met and married his third wife, Anneke Van Kirk. They had a child, Lorinna Lynn. The couple moved to Fruit Cove, Florida, briefly. They lived in a bus on land called Beluthahatchee, owned by his friend Stetson Kennedy. 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. Shortly after, Anneke filed for divorce, a result of the strain of caring for Guthrie. Anneke left New York and allowed friends to adopt Lorinna Lynn. Lorinna had no further contact with her birth parents and died in a car accident in California in 1973 at the age of 19. After the divorce, Guthrie's second wife, Marjorie, re-entered his life and cared for him until his death.
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, a 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.
1950s and 1960s
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. Because of Guthrie's suffering Huntington's disease, 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."
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.
In 1949, Guthrie's music was featured in the film Columbia River; Guthrie had been commissioned in 1941 to provide songs for the project, but it had been postponed by WWII.
While he was on furlough from the Army, Guthrie and Marjorie were married. 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 the age of four, sending Guthrie into a serious depression. Their other children were 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.
Guthrie believed performing his anti-fascist songs and poems at home was 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. Guthrie followed their advice and went to sea in June 1943 making voyages in convoys during the Battle of the Atlantic aboard the merchant ships SS William B. Travis, SS William Floyd, and SS Sea Porpoise. He served as a mess man and dishwasher and frequently sang for the crew and troops to buoy their spirits on transatlantic voyages. His first ship William B. Travis hit a mine in the Mediterranean Sea killing one person aboard but made it to Bizerte, Tunisia under her own power. His last ship, Sea Porpoise, took troops from the United States for the D-Day invasion. Guthrie was aboard when the ship was torpedoed off Utah Beach by the German submarine U-390 on July 5, 1944, injuring 12 of the crew. Guthrie was unhurt and the ship stayed afloat to be repaired at Newcastle upon Tyne in England before returning to the United States in July 1944. He was an active supporter of the National Maritime Union, the main union for wartime American sailors. Guthrie wrote songs 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. 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.
World War II years
In 1944, Guthrie met Moses "Moe" Asch of Folkways Records, for whom he first recorded "This Land Is Your Land". Over the next few years, he 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. The Folkways recordings are available (through the Smithsonian Institution online shop); the most complete series of these sessions, culled from dates with Asch, is titled The Asch Recordings.
The Asch recordings
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. Lomax thought Guthrie's descriptions of growing up were some of the best accounts he had read of American childhood. During this time Guthrie met Marjorie Mazia, a dancer in New York who would become his second wife. 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, Folksay included the adaptation of some of Guthrie's Dust Bowl Ballads for the dance. Guthrie continued to write songs and began work on his autobiography. The end product, Bound for Glory, was completed with the patient editing assistance of Mazia and was first published by E.P. Dutton in 1943. It is vividly told in the artist's down-home dialect, with the flair and imagery of a true storyteller. Library Journal complained about the "too careful reproduction of illiterate speech." But Clifton Fadiman, reviewing the book in the New York Times, paid the author a fine tribute: "Someday 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." A film adaptation of Bound for Glory was released in 1976.
Bound for Glory
 In the Almanac House, Guthrie added authenticity to their work, since he 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,
Initially Guthrie helped write and sing what the Almanac 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 group wrote anti-fascist songs. 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.
Following the conclusion of his work in Washington, 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. 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.
In May 1941, after a brief stay in Los Angeles, Guthrie moved the family north to Washington on the promise of a job. Gunther von Fritsch was directing a documentary about the Bonneville Power Administration's construction of the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River, and needed a narrator. Alan Lomax had recommended Guthrie to narrate the film and sing songs onscreen. The original project was expected to take 12 months, but as filmmakers became worried about casting such a political figure, they minimized Guthrie's role. The Department of the Interior hired him for one month to write songs about the Columbia River and the construction of the federal dams for the documentary's soundtrack. Guthrie toured the Columbia River and the Pacific Northwest. Guthrie said he "couldn't believe it, it's a paradise", 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". The surviving songs were released as Columbia River Songs. The film "Columbia" was not completed until 1949 (see below). 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. 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.
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. He was finally making enough money to send regular payments back to Mary. He also brought her and the children to New York, where the family lived briefly 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." Guthrie quit after the seventh broadcast, claiming he had begun to feel the show was too restrictive when he was told what to sing. Disgruntled with New York, Guthrie packed up Mary and his children in a new car and headed west to California.
In November 1941, Seeger introduced Guthrie to his friend the poet Charles Olson, then a junior editor at the fledgling magazine Common Ground. The meeting led to Guthrie writing the article "Ear Players" in the Spring 1942 issue of the magazine. The article marked Guthrie's debut as a published writer in the mainstream media.
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, as they had busked together at bars in Harlem.
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. There he met the folksinger Pete Seeger, and the two men became good friends. Later, Seeger accompanied Guthrie back to Texas to meet other members of the Guthrie family. He recalled an awkward conversation with Mary Guthrie's mother, in which she asked for Seeger's help to persuade Guthrie to treat her daughter better.
These verses were often omitted in subsequent recordings, sometimes by Guthrie. Although the song was written in 1940, it was four years before he recorded it for Moses Asch in April 1944. Sheet music was produced and given to schools by Howie Richmond sometime later.
- 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.
Guthrie was tired of the radio overplaying Irving Berlin's "God Bless America." He thought the lyrics were unrealistic and complacent. Partly inspired by his experiences during a cross-country trip and his distaste for "God Bless America," he wrote his most famous song, "This Land Is Your Land", in February 1940; it was subtitled: "God Blessed America for Me." The melody is adapted from an old gospel song, "Oh My Loving Brother." This was best known as "When The World's On Fire," 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." He protested against class inequality in the fourth and sixth verses:
Sample of Woody Guthrie's song, "This Land is Your Land"
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Arriving in New York, Guthrie, known as "the Oklahoma cowboy," was embraced by its leftist folk music community. For a time, he slept on a couch in Will Geer's apartment. Guthrie made his first recordings—several hours of conversation and songs recorded by the folklorist Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress—as well as an album, Dust Bowl Ballads, for Victor Records in Camden, New Jersey.
New York City
1940s: Building a Legacy
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. Both Robbin and Guthrie left the station. Without the daily radio show, his 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 New York City and headed east.
It was at KFVD that Guthrie met newscaster Ed Robbin. Robbin was impressed with a song Guthrie wrote about political activist Thomas Mooney, believed by many to be wrongly convicted in a case that was a cause célèbre of the time. Robbin, who became Guthrie's political mentor, introduced Guthrie to socialists and Communists in Southern California, including Will Geer (who, in turn, introduced Guthrie to John Steinbeck). Robbin remained 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," he was never a member of the Party. He was noted as a fellow traveler—an outsider who agreed with the platform of the party while not subject to party discipline. Guthrie asked to write a column for the Communist newspaper, People's World. The column, titled "Woody Sez," appeared a total of 174 times from May 1939 to January 1940. "Woody Sez" was not explicitly political, but was about current events as observed by Guthrie. He wrote the columns in an exaggerated hillbilly dialect and usually included a small comic; they were published as a collection after Guthrie's death. Steve Earle said of Guthrie, "I don't think of Woody Guthrie as a political writer. He was a writer who lived in very political times."
During the late part of that decade, he achieved fame with radio partner Maxine "Lefty Lou" Crissman as a broadcast performer of commercial "hillbilly" music and traditional folk music. Guthrie was making enough money to send for his family, who were still living in Texas. While appearing on the commercial radio station KFVD, owned by a populist-minded New Deal Democrat Frank W. Burke, Guthrie began to write and perform some of the protest songs that would eventually appear on Dust Bowl Ballads.
At age 19, Guthrie met and married his first wife, Mary Jennings, with whom he had three children, Gwendolyn, Sue, and Bill. 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.