It was one hundred years ago today Woodrow Wilson Guthrie, better known to the world and those who met him as ‘Woody’ Guthrie, was born in Okemah, Oklahoma a place marked by rural poverty. Eventually Woody’s search for work in the years of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl would take him across much of America, where with his guitar he documented the beauty of the lands, the injustices of the powerful, the events of his time, and the characters he met.
During his life Guthrie wasn’t a celebrity in the modern sense. Nor during his life did he have many if any best selling albums. He wasn’t donning the covers of magazines and sure as hell would never be handled by a publicist, but his original music well simple, would become the call of many. It would touch the pioneer, the dispossessed wanderer, the migrant farmers, the labor union member, the coal minor, and all those suffocated by hardship or the powerful. Over time he would not become merely a king among the pantheon of other singers and songwriters, many of whom he inspired (could you really picture Bob Dylan without Woody Guthrie), or even as an artist who heralded a message of social justice. Rather, Woody would become an icon a force in and of himself. One whose words and imagery reminded those who he sat and sang with that in a difficult world they were not alone, and offered a glimpse to all of us into their lives.
The world today knows more about itself because of Woody Guthrie. Happy Birthday!
On a local note: Woody’s son Arlo (of ‘Alice’s Restaurant’ fame) and Arlo’s daughter Sarah Lee, will be performing at the ‘Green River Festival’ in Greenfield this weekend, performing and commemorating the one hundredth year since Woody’s birth. The Valley Advocate also has a terrific interview with Sarah Lee.