Tag Archives: Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie, American radical

Although he achieved a host of national honors and adorned U.S. postage stamps, and although his song This land is your land is widely considered the nation’s second national anthem, Woody Guthrie committed his life to radical struggle.

Guthrie’s political awakening and activism can be traced throughout the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, the Korean War, the Civil Rights struggle, and the poison of McCarthyism. He played a major role in the development of a workers’ culture in the context of radical activism, particularly through his influence on the U.S. and international protest song movement.

This according to Woody Guthrie, American radical by Will Kaufman (Urbana: Universty of Illinois Press, 2011; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2011-1681).

Today is Woody Guthrie’s 110th birthday! Below, Emmylou Harris and his son Arlo present Woody’s classic take on a still-timely topic. Guthrie was inspired to write Deportee by what he considered the racist mistreatment of Mexican migrant farm workers before and after a 1948 airplane crash that killed 32 people. Subsequent news coverage only named the four U.S. citizens who died in the accident, so Guthrie sought to identify the 28 fallen Mexicans as real people as well.

Related article: Woody Guthrie, visual artist


Filed under Performers, Politics, Popular music

Rousseau and Aunt Rhody

The American traditional song Go tell Aunt Rhody originated as a gavotte composed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau for his opera Le devin du village (1752).

An English version of the opera was produced in London in 1766; subsequently the melody attracted various English texts, including Sweet Melissa (ca. 1788), and inspired a set of variations by the London piano virtuoso Johann Baptist Cramer (Rousseau’s dream, 1812).

Around 1825 the tune—identified as Greenville or Rousseau—began appearing in U.S. hymnals. The Aunt Rhody version has appeared in numerous American traditional song anthologies, and is still often found in children’s song collections.

This according to “Go tell Aunt Rhody she’s Rousseau’s dream” by Murl Sickbert, an essay included in Vistas of American music: Essays and compositions in honor of William K. Kearns (Warren: Harmonie Park, 1999, pp. 125–150).

Today is Rousseau’s 300th birthday! Below, the classic Woody Guthrie recording of his immortal gavotte.


Filed under Classic era, Curiosities

Woody Guthrie, visual artist

Unbeknownst to most of his admirers, Woodrow Wilson “Woody” Guthrie (1912–67)—who is widely known as the author of some of the best-loved songs of the twentieth century (including This land is your land) and as the inspiration for singer-songwriters including Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen—was also an indefatigable visual artist.

No documentation exists of Guthrie ever having formally studied art, but he produced thousands of visual art works: line drawings, paintings, illustrations, cartoons, portraits, sculptures, commercial art, and designs. He was keenly interested in the impressionists and the modernists, and worked with abstract as well as figurative themes.

Guthrie filled countless notebooks and journals with drawings and writings, often mixing the two, and at various times in his life he traded his sign-painting skills for food and traded sketches of bar patrons for drinks. He often used art as a political vehicle, particularly by drawing political cartoons. Like his music, his visual art was inspired by the everyday experiences of everyday people.

Guthrie’s visual art is documented with over 300 plates, almost all in full color—even for many of the line drawings, thereby capturing the ambience of blue-lined notebooks, yellowing journals, and decaying construction paper—in Woody Guthrie: Art works (New York: Rizzoli, 2005). Above, Dream (click to enlarge).

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Filed under Visual art