Democracy Now Celebrates Woody Guthrie’s 100th Birthday

Woody Guthrie At 100: Democracy Now

Commemorations are being held across the country this year to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of the country’s greatest songwriters, Woody Guthrie. Born on July 14, 1912, in Okemah, Oklahoma, Guthrie wrote hundreds of folk songs, including “This Land Is Your Land,” “Pastures of Plenty,” “Pretty Boy Floyd,” “Do Re Mi” and “The Ranger’s Command.” While Guthrie is best remembered as a musician, he also had a deeply political side. At the height of McCarthyism, Guthrie spoke out for labor and civil rights and against fascism. In this one-hour special, you will hear interviews and music from folk singer Pete Seeger, the British musician Billy Bragg, and the historian Will Kaufman, author of the new book, “Woody Guthrie, American Radical.”

“Woody’s original songs, the songs that he wrote back in the 1930s … with these images of people losing their houses to the banks, of gamblers on the stock markets making millions, when ordinary working people can’t afford to make ends meet, and of people dying for want of proper free healthcare, you know, this song could have been written anytime in the last five years, really, in the United States of America,” says Bragg, who has long been inspired by Guthrie.

Guthrie’s most famous song, “This Land Is Your Land,” was written in 1940 in response to Kate Smith’s “God Bless America.” “Woody saw [‘God Bless America’] as a strident, jingoistic, complacent, tub-thumping anthem to American greatness,” Kaufman says. “And now, he had just come from the Dust Bowl. He’d just come from the barbed-wire gates of California’s Eden there. He’d seen the Hoovervilles. He’d seen the bread lines. He’d seen labor activists getting their heads busted. And so, he’s thinking, what — God bless — what America, you know, is Kate Smith singing of?” In 2009, Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen performed “This Land Is Your Land” for the inauguration of President Obama.

AMY GOODMAN: Commemorations are being held across the country this year to mark the hundredth anniversary of the birth of one of the country’s greatest songwriters, Woody Guthrie. Born on July 14, 1912, in Okemah, Oklahoma, Guthrie wrote hundreds of folk songs, including “This Land Is Your Land,” “Pastures of Plenty,” “Pretty Boy Floyd,” “Do Re Mi” and this song, “The Ranger’s Command.”

NARRATOR: Two fragments of film survive of Guthrie performing. One of them, lost in the archives for 40 years has only just come to light.

WOODY GUTHRIE: [singing] But the rustlers broke on us in the dead hours of night;
She ’rose from her blanket, a battle to fight.
She ’rose from her blanket with a gun in each hand,
Said: Come all of you cowboys, fight for your land.

AMY GOODMAN: A rare 1945 video recording of Woody Guthrie. Known as the Dust Bowl Troubadour, Guthrie became a major influence on countless musicians, including Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Pete Seeger and Phil Ochs. While Woody Guthrie is best remembered as a musician, he also had a deeply political side. At the height of McCarthyism, Guthrie spoke out for labor and civil rights and against fascism. He died in 1967 after a long battle with Huntington’s disease. But his music lives on.

Over the next hour, we’ll hear from folk singer Pete Seeger, the British musician Billy Bragg and the historian Will Kaufman. But first, Woody Guthrie, in his own words, being interviewed by the musicologist Alan Lomax

ALAN LOMAX: What did your family do? What kind of people were they, and where did they come from?

WOODY GUTHRIE: Well, they come in there from Texas . . .   click here for the rest of this story and/or to hear the program.

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