100 years after singer Guthrie's birth, this land is his

Sat Jul 14, 2012 12:20pm EDT
 
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Steve Olafson

OKEMAH, Oklahoma (Reuters) - For a man who has been dead since 1967, it has been a good year for folk singer Woody Guthrie, who would have turned 100 on Saturday.

New books on Guthrie have been published, more Guthrie songs have been released and in the small Oklahoma town of Okemah, where he was born, nobody wants to burn him in effigy for his politics.

"It's a new world," said Arlo Guthrie, 65, standing outside the town's refurbished movie theater that hosts Woodyfest, the annual folk festival that honors his father. It continues through Sunday.

This year, from California and New York to Germany and Italy, the man dubbed the "Dust Bowl troubadour" is being analyzed and fondly remembered at Guthrie centennial gatherings great and small.

Not bad for a singer and songwriter who was a commercial flop, despite writing the iconic American song "This Land is Your Land."

Guthrie first caught the public's attention for his songs about the 1930s Dust Bowl and the migration west of a half-million out-of-work poor folk. In California, and later in New York City, he became an advocate for migrant farm workers and the trade union movement, a promoter and fund-raiser for socialist causes and a columnist for a communist newspaper.

He sang and joked and philosophized on major network radio shows that commanded a huge audience, but his commercial career was short-lived. He died of the degenerative nervous system disorder Huntington's Disease after spending most of his last 15 years in a hospital.

Guthrie, not formally educated but a well-read bookworm, used a hillbilly sense of humor patterned after a fellow Oklahoman he admired, said Guy Logsdon, who began researching Guthrie in 1957.   Continued...

 
Arlo Guthrie stands outside Okemah's refurbished movie theater that hosts Woodyfest, the annual folk festival that honors his father, Woody Guthrie in Okemah, Oklahoma July 11, 2012. For a man who has been dead since 1967, it has been a good year for folk singer Guthrie, who would have turned 100 on July 14, 2012. New books have been published, more Guthrie songs have been released and in the small Oklahoma town where he was born, nobody wants to burn him in effigy for his politics. Photo taken July 11, 2012. REUTERS/Steve Olafson