Although I can remember singing Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" as a kid, it wasn't until I had my own child that my love for Guthrie really began.
Of course, as a music lover, I knew his influence and impact on folk music, but the little collection of children's songs I was given as a new mother is really what brought me to listen to more of Guthrie's music.
The younger me may not have been very interested in the dusty (literally) old history of Guthrie's career. But now that I'm older, I realize just how crucial Guthrie is to America in more ways than just as a member of some "music scene."
Within the confines of music scenes all over the country, however, he wrote powerful ballads that brought to light the pain of poverty, the harshness of government injustices and his undying love for the beauty and splendor of America.
It's interesting to realize that for such an important musical figure, most folks may only be able to name one or two songs Guthrie wrote. That's pretty disappointing, considering he wrote a staggering 3,000+ songs, along with penning two novels, during his very short 55 years.
Still, many of his song lyrics went unpublished and unrecorded as he battled Huntington's Chorea during the final years of his life. Thanks to friends, family and fans, Guthrie's songs still live on through today.
Notably among some of Guthrie's unpublished material released after his death is "Mermaid Avenue," an album recorded by Billy Bragg and Wilco in 1998. The album is named after the street where Guthrie lived on Coney Island.
Nora Guthrie, Woody's daughter, approached Bragg with a stack of her father's lyrics in hopes he might be able to get them out into the world for others to finally hear. It proved to be a big boost for moving Guthrie into the next century, with Bragg recording a follow-up volume a few years later.
For a quick course in Guthrie history, check out his official site woodyguthrie.org, run by daughter Nora, president of the Woody Guthrie Foundation.
Nora is also working with the Grammy Museum this year to celebrate what would have been Woody Guthrie's 100th birthday, July 14. They've planned a series of concerts, conferences and museum exhibits in hopes of luring a younger crowd into the Guthrie fan club.
And it could work. Guthrie's songs of protest, way of life and political beliefs are evergreen. His catalog, full of powerful ballads about his support of unions, migrant workers, and minorities, rings true with current events. It's a touchstone for modern music, America and freedom.
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