Woody Guthrie: the authentic voice of America

Sarfraz Manzoor asks" Fans of Woody Guthrie's music include everyone from Bob Dylan to Barack Obama but, exactly 100 years after his birth, isn't it time to separate the man from the myth?"    

New York City, February 23, 1940. In a dingy hotel room near Times Square sits Woody Guthrie. He is 27 years old and newly arrived in the city, having travelled from California, where he had spent the past three years singing and writing about the migrant workers who had fled to the Golden State, escaping the dust storms that had ravaged the Great Plains. As he crossed the country, Guthrie kept hearing Irving Berlin’s God Bless America.

The song’s sappy lyrics sit uneasily with his own bitter experiences of how shabbily migrant workers had been treated in California. He begins tapping at his typewriter a song he initially calls God Blessed America, six verses set to a tune borrowed from the Carter Family. It will be his response to God Bless America. Once he has finished typing, Guthrie signs it, dates it and then ignores it for five years. When he does eventually revisit the song he gives it a different name: This Land is Your Land.

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Dust bowl troubadour: Woody Guthrie with Margaret Johnson  in October 1940