Woody Guthrie (1912-1967)

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Bound For GloryThis year sees the 100th anniversary of the birth of Woody Guthrie, American folksinger and songwriter. He wrote more than 1000 songs, which were all influenced by his travels, and dealt with such themes as the hardship of the Depression, the "Dust Bowl" drought and the Unions. He is best known for the song "This land is Your Land" and "So long it's been good to know ya". Many of the songs he wrote during his illness were lost as they were not recorded.

In 1940, Alan Lomax began recording Guthrie's songs for the American Library of Congress. Around this time, he also met Pete Seeger in New York where Guthrie also performed with other activists, such as Lead Belly. During the 1950s and 1960s he became famous as a folk hero, influencing the younger generation of protest singers, such as, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Bragg and others.

He was born on July 14, 1912, and raised in the small town of Okemah, Oklahoma. His father was a businessman and was also involved in local politics. His early life was beset by many tragedies including the death of his sister in a fire which destroyed the family home. His father was financially ruined. His mother suffered from poor health, although, it was not known at the time that she was struggling with the symptoms of Huntington’s Disease for which she was later institutionalised and died.

He received little formal education and taught himself to play the guitar.  Both his parents were musically inclined and taught Woody a wide range of folk songs. During the 1930s he lived a very nomadic lifestyle, singing and performing his songs on the streets from place to place to eke out an existence. He travelled with migrant workers to California singing and busking along the way. Many of his songs are about his experiences in the Dust Bowl era during Depression times. Guthrie became a successful radio personality in Los Angeles, and began performing at protest meetings and picket lines. Guthrie was married three times and fathered eight children. He died 3rd October 1967 from complications of Huntington's disease which he had inherited from his mother.

To celebrate Woody Guthrie Centenary, Billy Bragg and Andy Irvine will be staging a show at Vicar Street, 17th September which will focus on the legacy of Woody Guthrie.

The Music Library has many of Woody Guthrie's CDs, Scores and books among its collection


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