Hear Two Legends, Lead Belly & Woody Guthrie, Performing on the Same Radio Show (1940)

Let’s go back in time to Decem­ber 12, 1940 and turn our radio dial to 830 AM WNYC. It’s 6 p.m. in New York and blues singer Lead Bel­ly has his week­ly half-hour show (Folk Songs of Amer­i­ca) where he sings songs and invites on a guest each week. On this episode he wel­comes folk singer “The Dusti­est Dust­bowler of them all”——as the announc­er calls him——Woody Guthrie, who, like the host, deliv­ers three songs with some in between song pat­ter.

This record­ing sat in the WNYC archives until being dust­ed off for a rebroad­cast in 2007 as part of the Down Home Radio Show. The first year of the Down Home Radio Show coin­cid­ed with the last year in the life of Pro­fes­sor Hen­ri­et­ta Yurchen­co (1916–2007), who was a well known folk and world music radio per­son­al­i­ty, as well as an eth­no­mu­si­col­o­gist. One of her ear­li­est radio jobs was pro­duc­ing this very episode for Lead Bel­ly’s Folk Songs of Amer­i­ca, when she was only 24. She lat­er went on to work with oth­er stars in the busi­ness such as Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan.

The 1940 episode was unearthed for a show on out­law songs, both blues and folk songs that glam­or­ize peo­ple that the law saw as com­mon crim­i­nals, but the peo­ple loved regard­less. Lead Bel­ly sings “Frankie and Albert” and Guthrie sings “John Hardy” and “Jesse James.”

Also on the show, Guthrie intro­duces his own “Bal­lad of Tom Joad” with a sto­ry about watch­ing The Grapes of Wrath movie (1940) three times and then writ­ing his own ver­sion. Lead Bel­ly ends the show with “Boll Wee­vil,” which, being about a much hat­ed insect, is kind of an out­law bal­lad of sorts.

The only shame is not hear­ing the two togeth­er, and it’s not known whether they were in the same stu­dio at the time.

Final­ly the announc­er adds that if you like the show, drop a line to Lead Bel­ly cour­tesy of WNYC and they’ll send you all the lyrics. I won­der if any­body still has a copy of that?

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch the Only Known Footage of the Leg­endary Blues­man Lead Bel­ly (1935 and 1945)

Woody Guthrie’s Doo­dle-Filled List of 33 New Year’s Res­o­lu­tions From 1943

Woody Guthrie’s Fan Let­ter To John Cage and Alan Hov­haness (1947)

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

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