On July 14, many folk and roots-music enthusiasts in the Lake Superior region celebrated the 109th anniversary of the birth of Woody Guthrie. He was born July 14, 1912, in Okemah, Oklahoma, and died October 3, 1967, in New York City.
Perhaps best known for his iconic song, “This Land Is Your Land,” that he wrote and recorded when he was only 28, his lyrics often focused on the hardscrabble realities of his troubled times by using unadorned language in his quest to give hope to millions of Americans devastated by the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, and seismic social and cultural shifts that our country experienced during the decades immediately following World War II.
In addition, Guthrie’s life and work profoundly influenced the songwriting of 2016 Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan, whose friendship and compassion Woody Guthrie appreciated prior to his passing from Huntington’s disease.
Dylan was hardly alone in his admiration for Guthrie’s songwriting. Generations of songwriters across musical genres, before and after his death, saw him and his sing-along, topical, and universal songs as their aesthetic load star.
Accordingly, countless solo artists and groups covered his best-known songs, and, today, many chapters of his life and work can be experienced in depth at the state-of-the-art The Woody Guthrie Center, which opened in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 2013.
Although most of the rails Guthrie rode and rode him have been ridden into history by horseless carriages, binary clouds, and rockets to Mars, politicians still pontificate and pundits still prognosticate like they did when his songs defined and defied his days when on his guitar he wrote, “This machine kills fascists.”
During our current troubled times, we are fortunate to have his songs to lend our ears to, since, like America, his songs were “made for you and me.”
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