Saturday marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Woody Guthrie, the greatly influential folk singer whose music was inseparable from the hard circumstances of his life and his deep sense of social justice.
“A folk song is what’s wrong and how to fix it,” Guthrie once said, “or it could be who’s hungry and where their mouth is or who’s out of work and where the job is or who’s broke and where the money is or who’s carrying a gun and where the peace is.”
To help mark the milestone we bring you rare footage, above, of Guthrie singing “The Ranger’s Command” in 1945. The clip is from the 1988 BBC Arena documentary, Woody Guthrie, which can be seen in its entirety below. The film is a vivid portrait of the singer, with rare audio recordings of Guthrie speaking, along with interviews with Alan Lomax, Jack Elliot, Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie and others. As BBC Arena editor Anthony Wall writes of the film’s subject:
“This land is your land”, sang Woody Guthrie, his mission to reclaim the true America from the lawyers and politicians and thugs and return it to the people. He said he was just trying ‘to tell people what they already know’. Originally from a comfortably-off family in Oklahoma, he took to the road and rails to chronicle in song the depression and dustbowl. A fabulous example of American self-invention, ‘Guthrie came with the dust and he went with the wind’
For more on the Woody Guthrie Centennial, visit Woody100.com. The Web site features a biography with photographs and other materials, a “song of the day,” and a 2012 calendar of events. This weekend there are several big events in New York, including a birthday party Saturday on Coney Island, with appearances by Billy Bragg, Steve Earle and Guthrie’s daughter, Nora, along with a free screening the film “Bound For Glory” on the beach. On Sunday, Arlo Guthrie and others in the Guthrie family will give a free concert in Central Park.
And for more Guthrie resources, go to:
- SoundPortraits.org to download audio of Alan Lomax’s 1940 interview with Guthrie, along with a transcript of the conversation.
- CulturalEquity.org, host of the Alan Lomax Archives, for several short but interesting takes of Guthrie singing political songs in 1948, including “If Dewey Gets Elected” and “The Road is Rocky.”
- NPR.org for a 40-minute radio program, “Fresh Air Celebrates Woody Guthrie at 100.” Terry Gross interviews Guthrie biographer Ed Cray and Smithsonian Folkways archivist Jeff Place, who co-produced the new box set Woody at 100.
- DemocracyNow.org for a one-hour television special, “On Woody Guthrie’s Centennial, Celebrating the Life, Politics & Music of the ‘Dust Bowl Troubadour.’” Hosts Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez interview Woody’s daughter Nora Guthrie, author of the new book, My Name is New York: Ramblin’ Around Woody Guthrie’s Town, and his granddaughter Anna Canoni, along with musician Steve Earle. The show also features rare audio recordings of Guthrie speaking.