I10073 - Woody Guthrie
“I am out to sing songs that’ll prove to you that this is your world, no matter how hard it has run you down and rolled over you. I am out to sing the songs that will make you take pride in yourself.” Woody Guthrie
Today, Woody Guthrie is best known for his song, “This Land Is Your Land”. Guthrie would also write nearly 3,000 songs, two novels, plays, letters and news articles that focused on the impact of income inequality and social injustice.
Guthrie was married three times and fathered eight children including folk musician Arlo Guthrie.
In his youth, Guthrie was one of the many men impacted by the Dust Bowl, traveling to California to find work during the Depression. He stayed in migrant camps, slept under bridges, sang songs and told jokes to make a living.
He told an audience that he was in California: “Just traveling around, looking for my family. Forgot which railroad bridge they’re camped under.”
He would later perform at rallies, fundraisers and on the radio. Guthrie did not care about the politics of his audience. “Left wing, right wing, chicken wing – it’s the same thing to me. I sing my songs wherever I can sing ‘em.”
Guthrie wrote, “This Land Is Your Land” in 1940. He wrote different versions with different verses. It was first recorded four years later. The song’s popularity exploded in the 1960’s as other singers would record it on their albums. The song has traveled to other countries, tweaked to fit the region and recorded in other languages.
His son Arlo in concerts would tell the story of his mother (Nora) returning from a dance tour of China, and reporting around the Guthrie family dinner table that at one point in the tour she was serenaded by Chinese children singing the song. Arlo says Woody was incredulous: "The Chinese? Singing "This land is your land, this land is my land? From California to the New York island?"
To Guthrie’s surprise, a song that began as a response to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America”, has resonated with people across the globe. In every language, the landmarks may change, the verses may differ but the tune always ends with the populist belief: “This land was made for you and me.”