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Woody Guthrie

American singer-songwriter (1912–1967) / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Woodrow Wilson Guthrie (/ˈɡʌθri/; July 14, 1912 – October 3, 1967) was an American singer-songwriter and composer who was one of the most significant figures in American folk music. His work focused on themes of American socialism and anti-fascism. He inspired several generations both politically and musically with songs such as "This Land Is Your Land".[5][6][7]

Quick facts: Woody Guthrie, Born, Died, Spouses, Children...
Woody Guthrie
Guthrie playing guitar and looking up at an angle away from the camera in a black-and-white photo
Guthrie with a guitar labeled "This machine kills fascists" in 1943
Woodrow Wilson Guthrie

(1912-07-14)July 14, 1912
DiedOctober 3, 1967(1967-10-03) (aged 55)
New York City, U.S.
Mary Jennings
(m. 1931; div. 1940)
(m. 1945; div. 1953)
Anneke Van Kirk
(m. 1953; div. 1956)
Children8, including Arlo and Nora
Musical career
  • Singer-songwriter
DiscographyWoody Guthrie discography
Years active1930–1956
Military career
AllegianceUnited States
Years of service
  • 1943–1945 (Merchant Marine)
  • 1945 (Army)
Battles/warsWorld War II

Guthrie wrote hundreds of country, folk, and children's songs, along with ballads and improvised works. Dust Bowl Ballads, Guthrie's album of songs about the Dust Bowl period, was included on Mojo magazine's list of 100 Records That Changed The World,[8] and many of his recorded songs are archived in the Library of Congress.[9] Songwriters who have acknowledged Guthrie as a major influence on their work include Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, Robert Hunter, Harry Chapin, John Mellencamp, Pete Seeger, Andy Irvine, Joe Strummer, Billy Bragg, Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Jeff Tweedy, Tom Paxton, Brian Fallon, Sean Bonnette, and Sixto Rodríguez. He frequently performed with the message "This machine kills fascists" displayed on his guitar.

Guthrie was brought up by middle-class parents in Okemah, Oklahoma.[10] He married at 19, but with the advent of the dust storms that marked the Dust Bowl period, he left his wife and three children to join the thousands of Okies who were migrating to California looking for employment. He worked at Los Angeles radio station KFVD, achieving some fame from playing hillbilly music, made friends with Will Geer and John Steinbeck, and wrote a column for the communist newspaper People's World from May 1939 to January 1940.

Throughout his life, Guthrie was associated with United States communist groups, although he apparently did not belong to any.[11] With the outbreak of World War II and the Molotov–Ribbentrop non-aggression pact the Soviet Union had signed with Germany in 1939, the anti-Stalin owners of KFVD radio were not comfortable with Guthrie's political leanings after he wrote a song praising the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and the Soviet invasion of Poland.[12] He left the station, ending up in New York, where he wrote and recorded his 1940 album Dust Bowl Ballads, based on his experiences during the 1930s, which earned him the nickname the "Dust Bowl Troubadour".[13] In February 1940, he wrote his most famous song, "This Land Is Your Land". He said it was a response to what he felt was the overplaying of Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" on the radio.[14]

Guthrie was married three times and fathered eight children. His son Arlo Guthrie became nationally known as a musician. Guthrie died in 1967 from complications of Huntington's disease. His first two daughters also died of the disease.

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