A blog sponsored by the Michigan State University Museum's Michigan Traditional Arts Program, a partnership with the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs. Sharing news and information about the Great Lakes Folk Festival, Quilt Index, the MSU Museum's traditional arts activities, Great Lakes traditional artists and arts resources, and much more. Development of content for this blog supported by funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Woody Lives! Woody Guthrie 100th Birthday

In case somehow you missed it, we are celebrating the remarkable life of Woody Guthrie this year. On July 14, 2012, Woody would have been 100 years old. There are a number of new notable tributes to Guthrie in terms of re-issued recordings, books, web resources, and conferences. If you want learn more about Woody or to glean some new keen insights on his life and music, I would suggest you start by reading an article on the Guthrie manuscript collections at American Folklife Center/Library of Congress written by AFC writer-editor Stephen Winick with research assistance from reference specialist Todd Harvey. What is so special about this essay is that it delves into Guthrie’s expressive writing and artwork as it appeared in correspondence, songbooks, essays, and other items that he sent to the Library of Congress during the 1940s. The collection includes the mimeographed songbook in which he first published and registered copyright on “This Land is Your Land,” and an amusing illustrated essay on elections, usually known as “Vote for Bloat.” Winick also did a blog post reviewing the Smithsonian Folkways box set Woody at 100, which features three AFC recordings among its Guthrie treasures. You can find both articles: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-d-winick/

Of course, for most folks, the pinnacle in the form of a tribute is the release of the box set of recording, Woody At 100: The Woody Guthrie Centennial Collection by Smithsonian Folkways. While the intention here is not to promote the purchase of music or art, if you have any interest in Woody Guthrie and traditional music in America, you should consider adding this amazing centennial box set to your library as it includes 3 CD's of Smithsonian Folkways with 57 music tracks as well as never before released tracks and radio recordings by Woody Guthrie. The accompanying 150 large-format book includes essays by Jeff Place, Robert Santelli and Peter LaChappell. This commemorative-boxed set is a real treat that highlights over 150 original pieces of artwork, lyrics, photographs and writings by Woody Guthrie from the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and the Woody Guthrie Archives. Click here to order or watch a mini-documentary video about the making of Woody at 100.

During the 2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival the National Public Radio program Talk of the Nation broadcast live from the national mall and devoted an hour to interviews with Jeff Place and Robert Santelli who helped paint a more contemporary understanding of Guthrie as one of America’s most important folk composers, as an overlooked visual artist, and creative marketer of his music and advocacy for “the folk.” The live call in session was inspiring as it generated a massive response from listeners and reaffirmed Guthrie’s place in the hearts and minds of Americans.

There is even a deeper and richer treatment of Woody in the new book, This Land Is Your Land: Woody Guthrie and the Journey of an American Folk Song by Robert Santelli. The book traces the early years beginning in 1939 to the legacy of Woody Guthrie today. Filled with new insights and information based on interviews done with many of the Guthrie family and with Woody’s contemporaries. Beautifully designed and illustrated, it helps make the case that Woody Guthrie needs to be recognized as a significant part of the intellectual history of American music.

The tributes to Woody continue in other forms including one that will appeal to kids and families. There is a new recording entitled, Little Seed: Songs for Children by Woody Guthrie. This recording by Elizabeth Mitchell. It features re-imagined renditions of 13 kid-friendly Guthrie classics in CD or digital download format.

Finally, there will be a scholarly conference and concerts on September 7-9, 2012 at Penn State University in State College, PA. The conference is entitled, Woody Guthrie at 100: Woody’s Legacy to Working Men and Women. The GRAMMY Museum is partnering with the Guthrie Foundation and Archives to create the centennial celebrations of Guthrie’s life and work. Papers will address Guthrie’s legacy and influence —with regard to folk music, art, literature, rhetoric, philosophy, media studies, politics, and culture; labor history; gender, free speech, and class issues; the history of social movements; the global fight against fascism; and/or the work of the many writers, artists, and musicians whom Guthrie inspired and influenced. For more information go to: woodyguthrie.psu.conference@gmail.com

I hope you will enjoy reconnecting with the music, life, and evolving legacy of Woody Guthrie this year as we celebrate his 100th birthday. Woody voice and message lives on in the 21st century in our land.

C. Kurt Dewhurst, Ph.D.
Director of Arts and Cultural Initiatives and Senior Fellow
University Outreach and Engagement
Curator of Folklife and Cultural Heritage/Director Emeritus
MSU Museum
Professor of English and Museum Studies