Folklorist Nick Spitzer tells the story of Woody Guthrie’s leftist national anthem. Some have a land more kind than home pdf “This Land Is Your Land” an alternative national anthem. Others say it’s a Marxist response to “God Bless America. Folklorist Nick Spitzer has the story of an American classic.
Woodrow Wilson Guthrie was born in 1912 in Okemah, Okla. He recorded “This Land Is Your Land” during a marathon April 1944 session in New York for Moses Asch, who founded Folkways Records. Guthrie was on shore leave from the Merchant Marines, one of his many occupations during the Depression and war years. Growing up in small-town Oklahoma, Guthrie heard church hymns, outlaw ballads, blues, fiddle tunes and popular music. The Guthries had been fairly prosperous — Woody’s father was a small-time politician and businessman — but the family unraveled in the topsy-turvy oil economy of the ’20s and ’30s.
The Guthrie family relocated to Pampa, Tex. Woody’s mother was committed to a mental institution for a mysterious nervous condition. That’s when Woody took to the road. As a boy, he’d already proven himself to be a gifted street entertainer — dancing, playing guitar and harmonica, making up songs as he went. Words and music became a growing passion for him. This Land Is Your Land” wasn’t released by Folkways until 1951, but the song was originally written in February 1940, when Woody Guthrie first arrived in New York City from Oklahoma.