Woodrow Wilson "Woody" Guthrie (July 14, 1912 – October 3, 1967) was an American singer-songwriter and musician whose musical legacy includes hundreds of political, traditional, and children's songs, along with 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. Songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Johnny Cash, 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, Sammy Walker 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 he 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.
Background information From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Early life: 1912–30
Guthrie was born 14 July 1912 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 conservative Democratic candidate for office in the county. Charles Guthrie was involved in the 1911 lynching of Laura and L. D. Nelson . Woody Guthrie wrote three songs about the event and said that his father, Charles, was later a member of the revived Ku Klux Klan.
[Image: Woody Guthrie's childhood home, Okfuskee County, Oklahoma, 1979]
There were three significant fires during Guthrie's early life, including one that caused the loss of his family's home in Okemah. His sister Clara died after setting her clothes on fire during an argument with her mother when Guthrie was seven, and Guthrie's father was severely burned in a fire at home. Guthrie's mother, Nora, was afflicted with Huntington's disease, although the family did not know this at the time. It leads to dementia as well as muscular degeneration. She was committed to the Oklahoma Hospital for the Insane. When Nora Guthrie was institutionalized, Woody Guthrie was 14.
His father Charley was living and working in Pampa, Texas, to repay his debts from unsuccessful real estate deals. Woody and his siblings were on their own in Oklahoma; they relied on their eldest brother Roy for support. The 14-year-old Woody Guthrie worked odd jobs around Okemah, begging meals and sometimes sleeping at the homes of family friends.
Guthrie had a natural affinity for music, learning old ballads and traditional English and Scottish songs from the parents of friends.
According to one story, Guthrie befriended an AfricanAmerican blues harmonica player named "George", whom he would watch play at the man's shoe shine booth. Before long, Guthrie bought his own harmonica and began playing along with him. 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. He used to busk for money and food. 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 busking on the streets and reading in the library at Pampa's city hall. He was able to gain experience by regularly playing at dances with his father's half-brother Jeff Guthrie, a fiddle player. At age 19, Guthrie met and married his first wife, Mary Jennings, with whom he had three children, Gwendolyn, Sue, and Bill. His mother died in 1930 while in the Oklahoma Hospital for the Insane.
During the Dust Bowl period, Guthrie joined the thousands of Okies who were migrating to California looking for work, leaving his wife and children in Texas.
Many of his songs are concerned with the conditions faced by these working-class people.
During the late part of that decade, he achieved fame with radio partner Maxine "Lefty Lou" Crissman [image] 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.
While at KFVD, 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 wrote 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."
With the outbreak of World War II and the non-aggression 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, Guthrie preferred to accept Will Geer's invitation 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. 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.
In February 1940 he wrote his most famous song, "This Land Is Your Land", as a response to what he felt was an overplaying of Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" on the radio. Guthrie thought the lyrics were unrealistic and complacent. He adapted the melody from an old gospel song, "Oh My Loving Brother", which had been adapted by the country group the Carter Family for their song "When The World's On Fire". Guthrie signed the manuscript with the comment, "All you can write is what you see". 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 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. 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.
From April 1940 Guthrie and Seeger lived together in the Greenwich Village loft of sculptor Harold Ambellan and his fiancee. 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 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.
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.
Choreographer Sophie Maslow developed Folksay as an elaborate mix of modern dance and ballet, which combined folk songs by Woody Guthrie with text from Carl Sandburg’s 1936 booklength poem The People, Yes. The premiere took place in March 1942 at the Humphrey-Weidman Studio Theatre in New York City. Guthrie provided live music for the performance, which featured Maslow and her New Dance Group. Two-and-a-half years later, Maslow brought Folksay to early television under the direction of Leo Hurwitz. The same group performed the ballet live in front of CBS TV cameras. The 30-minute broadcast aired on WCBW, the pioneer CBS television station in New York City (now WCBS-TV), from 8:15-8:45PM ET on November 24th, 1944. Featured were Maslow and the New Dance Group, which included among others Jane Dudley, Pearl Pelmus, and William Bales. Woody Guthrie and fellow folksinger Tony Kraber played guitar, sang songs, and read text from The People, Yes. The program received positive reviews and was performed on television over WCBW a second time in early 1945.
In May 1941, after a brief stay in Los Angeles, Guthrie moved to Portland, Oregon, in the neighborhood of Lents, 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, Roll On", "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.
Almanac Singers Following the conclusion of his work in the Northwest, 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 "hootenannies", 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 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 antifascist 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 hootenannies 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.
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, Irwin Silber, would say. Woody routinely emphasized his working-class image, rejected songs he felt were not in the country blues vein he was familiar with, and rarely contributed 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". Guthrie contributed songwriting and authenticity in much the same capacity for Pete Seeger's postAlmanac Singers project "People's Songs", a newsletter and booking organization for labor singers, founded in 1945.
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. 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.
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".
World War II years
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 persuaded Guthrie to join the U.S. Merchant Marine in June 1943. He made several voyages aboard the merchant ships SS William B. Travis, SS William Floyd, and SS Sea Porpoise while they travelled in convoys during the Battle of the Atlantic. 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 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.
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: daughters Cathy and Nora; and sons Arlo and Joady. One of their children, Cathy, died as a result of a fire at the age of four, sending Guthrie into a serious depression. Arlo and Joady followed in their father's footsteps as singer-songwriters. 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 "Songs to Grow on for Mother and Child", written when Arlo was about nine years old. During 1947 he wrote House of Earth, a novel containing explicit sexual material, about a couple who build a house made of clay and earth to withstand the dust bowl's brutal weather, that he was unable to get published. It was published in 2013, by Harper under actor Johnny Depp's publishing imprint, Infinitum Nihil.
In 1949, Guthrie's music was used in the film Columbia River; Guthrie had been commissioned in 1941 to provide songs for the project, but it had been postponed by World War II.
The years living on Mermaid Avenue were among Guthrie's most productive as a writer. His extensive writings from this time were archived and maintained by Marjorie and later his estate, mostly handled by his daughter Nora. Several of the manuscripts contain scribblings by a young Arlo and the other Guthrie offspring.
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 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."
1950s and 1960s
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.
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 [image], re-entered his life and cared for him until his death.
Increasingly unable to control his muscles, Guthrie was hospitalized at Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital in Morris County, New Jersey, 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, New York, 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.
[Image: Guthrie and Marjorie facing Huntington's together.]
During the final few years of his life Guthrie was largely alone except for family. The progression of Huntington's threw Guthrie into extreme emotional states causing him to lash out at those nearby and to damage a prized book collection of Anneke's. These actions mirrored common symptoms of Huntington's including uncharacteristic aggression, emotional volatility, and social disinhibition. 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.
Folk revival and Guthrie's death
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. A demonstration copy of Arlo's magnum opus "Alice's Restaurant" was, according to a Guthrie "family joke," the last thing Woody heard before he died.
Guthrie was married three times and fathered eight children, including American folk musician Arlo Guthrie.
●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
Woody Guthrie Foundation
The Woody Guthrie Foundation is a non-profit organization that serves as administrator and caretaker of the Woody Guthrie Archives. The archives house the largest collection of Guthrie material in the world.  In 2013, the archives were relocated from New York City to the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, after being purchased by the Tulsa-based George Kaiser Foundation.  The Center officially opened on April 27, 2013.  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 are 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. 
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.
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