Woody Guthrie legacy on display at new Oklahoma museum

Sat Apr 27, 2013 7:25pm EDT
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By Steve Olafson

TULSA, Oklahoma (Reuters) - There was no doubt in Nora Guthrie's mind where the final repository of her famous musician father's legacy would be.

The Woody Guthrie Center opened on Saturday in Tulsa, allowing visitors to see the folk singer's handwritten lyrics to "This Land Is Your Land" and thousands of other lyric sheets, letters, postcards, artwork, photos, manuscripts and journals.

Guthrie was born in Okemah, Oklahoma, about 60 miles from Tulsa, in 1912 and spent his early years there. He gained fame in the 1930s for ballads that drew attention to the plight of Dust Bowl refugees, migrant farmworkers and others dispossessed by the hard times of the Great Depression.

Guthrie's papers were stored in boxes for decades following his death from Huntington's disease in 1967, just after interest in his life and work had been rekindled by Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary, and others during the 1960s folk music revival.

It was not until the early 1990s that Nora Guthrie started poking through the boxes that her mother, Guthrie's second wife, had carefully packaged.

She recalled pulling out the lyric sheet to "This Land Is Your Land" and asking an archivist what she should do to protect it. A cup of coffee was nearby, Nora Guthrie said, and the archivist carefully placed it and the lyrics a safe distance apart before explaining some of the basic points of archival storage.

The decision to move the archives from New York City to Oklahoma came about a decade ago. The Guthrie family had lost track of where Woody's mother, who died of Huntington's disease in 1930, was buried but rediscovered it in Oklahoma while a touring exhibit on the singer's life was visiting the state.

Family and friends gathered at the grave site, where Nora Guthrie said she was overcome with a feeling that her grandmother was telling her, "Thanks for bringing my boy back to me."   Continued...

Nora Guthrie (L), daughter of Woody Guthrie and sister to Arlo Guthrie, and Mary Jennings Boyle, 96, the first wife of Woody Guthrie, watch a multimedia presentation of Woody Guthrie's early years in the Texas panhandle at the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, April 26, 2013. Woody Guthrie, before he became famous, met and later married Jennings Boyle in Pampa, Texas, in a union that eventually ended in divorce. Nora Guthrie, now 63, is the youngest daughter from Woody Guthrie's second marriage and has played a major role in preserving his archives. REUTERS/Steve Olafson