A look at Woody Guthrie

Woody_1
On this day in 1967, one of the most important singers who ever lived passed away of Huntington’s Chorea in Queens, NY. Woody Guthrie is the original folk superstar and hero. It was Guthrie who, in the Thirties and Forties, transformed the humble folk ballad into a vehicle for social protest and observation. He paved the way for Bob Dylan and many others, who, via Woody, were moved by their conscience to share experiences through protest songs. Famed for writing ‘This Land Is Your Land’, ‘I Ain’t Got No Home’ and ‘Dust Bowl Refugees’, his colourful life became as legendary as the songs he wrote.

Guthrie was fueled by an endless curiosity about the world which saw him hitting the road
during the Depression, hitchhiking and riding the rails across the
Midwest and Far West. From those experiences came source material for
his songs and a lifelong commitment to radical politics.

In the Thirties, Guthrie travelled and slept among migrants, hobos and ‘Dust Bowl refugees’,  which  enabled him to accumulate the life experiences that were to be recounted in his songs and stories (as well as an autobiography, Bound for Glory). This was something that most folkies would later aspire to, but were actually too chicken to live the life, opting to merely wearing the jeans and plaid shirts, whilst never embracing those they sought to sing about.

His convictions led him to embrace communism, although he was denied membership in the Communist Party because he refused to renounce religion.

Arriving in New York in 1940, Guthrie took the city’s left-wing community by storm. He performed on network radio, wrote a column for the Communist Daily Worker, played at strikes and rallies, and recorded prolifically for the Folkways label. All the while, the self-taught folksinger studied politics, economics, science and religion. By mid-decade, Guthrie began experiencing bouts of depression and disorientation that signaled the onset of Huntington’s Chorea. His health slowly deteriorated and he was eventually confined to hospitals, where he was visited by young admirers like Bob Dylan When he died on October 3rd, 1967, Guthrie left behind three wives, eight children (including folksinger Arlo Guthrie) and about a thousand songs. Click here to see a video of the great man in action.

Mof Gimmers

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