Sunday, July 08, 2012

Celebrating Folk Humanitarian Woody Guthrie on his 100th birthday

By Gary Berg-Cross
July 14 2012 is the anniversary of Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday. There’s lots to celebrate about this man who was born in Okemah, Oklahoma and people are doing it all around the world.
“The GRAMMY Museum is partnering with the Guthrie Family / Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc. and the Woody Guthrie Archives to create the Centennial celebrations. The year-long celebration will include a host of concerts, programs and events taking place throughout the country and across the pond.”
A protest singer by disposition & champion of the underclass in the depression of the 30s the "People's Bard's" songs still run like a well oiled meme:
This Land Is Your Land , Hard Travelin', Deportees, Working Hard, Pretty Boy Floyd, Pastures of Plenty, and Roll On Columbia. You can hear many of then online.
The sad truth is that many of the dark side of America that Guthrie wrote about are still very much with us (I Ain't Got No Home In This World Anymore) and "Talking Dustbowl Blues" created as style used by many others singer-songwriters to make comments on life. You can see one list of his top 10 songs performed online staring with Bound for Glory performed by Tom Morello, Graham Nash, Nora Guthrie, Jack Elliott, Jackson Browne and friends.
But there is that hope and pure joy in many of his tune. For kids I like the Car song - Riding in the Car, Car. You can hear a live recording of an interview of Woody during WWII on a segment of BBC Radio's Children's Hour.
On the other hand if you want anti-religion songs you can sample Woody and Joe Hill’s 'Pie in the sky when you die' ,written as a parody of the Salvation Army favorite “In the Sweet By and By.” Cisco Houston has a version you can hear and the lyrics are online.

His disciple list of song writer's with a socio-political voice is is long including - Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, Arlo Guthrie, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, John McCutcheon, and Bruce Springsteen, and now young artists like Billy Bragg, Ani DiFranco, and Tom Morello.

Modern song writers, like Bruce Springsteen have spoken up as part of the celebration.  Bruce speaking of Guthrie at this year’s South By Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, called Woody Guthrie the ghost in the machine. In his keynote address, he attempted to explain why a pugnacious, populist strummer who never had a Billboard hit, a world tour or his face on the cover of Rolling Stone could still exert such a profound influence over the course of American music.

"Woody’s world," said Springsteen, "was one where fatalism was tempered by practical idealism; where speaking truth to power wasn’t futile, whatever its outcome."

As long as there is oppression to struggle against, the Boss implied, Guthrie’s voice will resonate.

Locally on Saturday, July 14, the Institute of Musical Traditions is sponsoring Joe Uehlein's Woody Guthrie Tribute on the 100th anniversary of Woody's birthday. Magpie will join Joe and the U-Liners at the Takoma Park Community Center.

But there is more for DC.   The Los Angeles-based Grammy Museum and the Guthrie Foundation and Archives is sponsoring "Woody at 100," a series of concerts, conferences and museum exhibits to celebrate the life and music of the radical troubadour and songwriter. This includes a tribute concert to be held at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. on October 14. Something to look forward to.

Picture Credits
Woody Picture

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