Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Woody Guthrie


Woody Guthrie (July 14, 1912- October 3, 1967) spent his life singing, songwriting and advocating for the rights of the common man and the Communist party.

Residence (city, state, or region): 
Guthrie grew up in a small town in Oklahoma, facing hard times through the death of his mother and sister. He watched his town rise and fall with the oil boom before he was forced to move to Pampa, Texas in 1933 due to dry seasons and a lack of work. When the dust storms continued, Guthrie moved out to California and later to New York for work purposes. (6)

He worked as a folk singer, song writer, and radio personality. He also dabbled in newspaper writing and sketching. (3)

What’s this person best known for?
 Guthrie was best known for writing hundreds of folksongs and his willingness to speak the truth on controversial issues.

He was left-oriented and openly connected to Communist society. (2) However, he was never an official member of the CPUSA and was instead considered by most to be a "Fellow Traveler". (6) He believed in being a voice for the disenfranchised and supporting the rights of the common man. (3)

Beliefs about relation between art and politics: 
He believed that art could promote social change and should make people feel better about themselves and the world. (3)

Major Activities in the 1930s: 
During the early 30s, Woody moved to Pampa, Texas and married his wife Mary Jennings. It was here that he was in his first band and began to consider himself a musician. (3) Around 1935, Woody began rambling along the open road to California in search of work. It was here that he wrote many of his earliest songs, often themed for protesting. He was given a column called "Woody Sez" in "The Daily Worker" which was known for its leftist support at the time. (6) He also worked for KFVD as an extremely popular radio personality, though his controversial views and willingness to speak his mind ultimately led to his firing. 

Major Works (include dates and place of publication where applicable): 
Two of his most popular works were "The Dust Bowl Ballads" in 1940 and "This Land is Your Land" in 1940.

Places where figure’s work often appears (magazines, radio, nightclubs, galleries): 
His songs and writings are still kept in the National Library of Congress. In his home town there is also an annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival and many folk radio stations continue to play his music. (4) Today, we continue to hear his influence through the works of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, along with the many others that continue to draw inspiration from and even cover his songs. (6)

Organizations he belongs to, causes he supports: 
He was not a member of the Communist party but was strongly involved and publicly supportive of them. He was even known to live in a neighborhood of Communists known as "Red Hill." (6) In New York in 1940, Guthrie also joined with a group of his good friends and fellow folk singers to form "The Almanacs". This group used their music to promote unions, anti-fascism,the Communist party and peace. (3)

Best sound bites by or about this figure, including source (if this person is a writer, you must include a quote by him or her): 

"I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard traveling.

I am out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood. I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built. I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work." (3)

Was this person a popular or critical success? 
 Yes, Woody enjoyed popularity for both his music and radio performances, especially within Communist circles. He also was extremely popular on the radio in the "Hoovervilles" and migrant camps of California. Guthrie's Oklahoma upbringing gave listeners a sense of home and comfort and he embraced his role as an "outsider" with them. He hoped to promote truth and justice for these same people through his work. (3) He has had many albums remade and rereleased since his death due to his popularity in the folk market. Tributes have been made to honor him in the Smithsonian and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Also, in 2008 and 2010, previously unrecorded concert tracks won Woody Guthrie a Grammy for "Best Historical Album" (6)

Fun Facts to Know and Tell
John Steinbeck was sometimes called "the Woody Guthrie of American authors." (4) 

Ironically, Sarah Lee Guthrie, the granddaughter of Woody, is married to the Johnny Irion, the great nephew of John Steinbeck! The couple started their own band that is a cross between pop and folk music. 

Also, Woody was affectionately nicknamed "The Dustbowl Troubadour." 

Titles of the 1-3 “texts” (writing, photos, songs, etc.) by this person you’ll discuss in your paper (include date and place of publication, if applicable):

1. Dust Bowl Blues

2. This Land Us Your Land

3. All You Fascists

What primary research have you done?
 I have researched through the TCU Library Encyclopedia Database and also the Performing Arts Database. I have also researched lyrics written by Woody Guthrie himself and heard recordings of his songs.

Connections with other parlor figures:

a. Friends, people who work together, people in the same circle: Aliza Greenblatt- a Yiddish poet, Pete Steeger- a fellow folk-singer, and Stetson Kennedy- a writer and political activist.

b. political or artistic allies: John Steinbeck- a writer who also supported the Communist party as a non-member and worked for fair treatment of migrant workers in California. Woody would've also appreciated Ernest Hemingway's belief that "fascism is a lie." Like Guthrie and Steinbeck, Malcolm Cowley also retained leftist views without being a member of the Communist party.

c. political or artistic opponents: Mill Lampell, fellow folk-singer and onetime group member with Guthrie. (5) Probably Father Charles Edward Coughlin if they had known each other, due to his anti-Semitic views.

Works Cited
1. "Woody Guthrie Archives Yield Materials For Marketing".  Jeffrey, Don. Billboard- The International News Weekly of Music, Video, and Home Entertainment 111.34. 21 August 1999. 49-50. Proquest. Web. 08 September 2011

2. "Woody Guthrie" Encyclopedia of Popular Music. 2008. Web.

3. The Official Website of Woody Guthrie. Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc. 2000. Web. 09 September 2011. 

4. "Black Keys Join Tribute to Woody Guthrie, John Steinbeck and the American Spirit" http://www.pluginmusic.com/news/archive.php?id=3760. 5 September 2008. npag. Web. 13 September 2011. 

5.Cray, Ed.. "A Desperate Little Man." Ramblin' man: the life and times of Woody Guthrie. New York: W.W. Norton, 2004. 229. Print.

6. "Woody Guthrie." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Sept. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woody_Guthrie>.

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