Woody Guthrie was an American folk singer, songwriter, writer, and artist who spoke for the working class during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl eras. His most famous song, "This Land Is Your Land", is still taught in schools across the United States. Woody's influence on singers and songwriters today is reflected in the work of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.
Born in Okemah, Oklahoma in 1912, Woodrow Wilson Guthrie (Woody), was the second child born to his musically-inclined parents. Woody's early home life was marred by tragedy. His older sister, Clara, was killed in a fire. His father was injured in a fire of uncertain origin and his mother was committed to a hospital for the insane. It was discovered later that she suffered from Huntington's Chorea, which is a genetic neurodegenerative disorder.
As a child and young adult, Woody made money by playing the harmonica and singing folk songs he had learned from his parents and friends. He had natural music ability and a first-hand knowledge of the struggle of working people. The Great Depression and Dust Bowl profoundly influenced Woody's music and he became an advocate for the disenfranchised, writing numerous songs about people and the times. Woody's songs began to be played on radio stations, where more and more people heard them.
Married three times during his life and fathering eight children, Woody began exhibiting signs of the same disease that had killed his mother in the late 1940s. He continued to write and sing as long as possible, but spent the last years of his life in hospitals. In 1959, a young Bob Dylan visited Woody in the hospital. Dylan had been deeply influenced by Woody's music and visited him often before Woody's death in 1967.
Woody Guthrie's legacy lives on in his music. His songs and life are celebrated every year during numerous tribute festivals in the United States. Today's artists still cover his songs. Woody Guthrie's message that people can change the world for the better remains as relevant now as it was over half a century ago.
For additional resources about Woody Guthrie, refer to the following web sites: