By Kim Ruehl, FolkAlley.com
Woody Guthrie grew up in a nowhere town in the heart of the Dust Bowl, in an America not altogether different from the one we live in today. As a young man, he joined the Dust Bowl exodus made infamous by John Steinbeck's 'Grapes of Wrath'. He cut his teeth singing in California union halls and eventually found his way to New York City. There, along with Pete Seeger, Leadbelly, and others, he laid the groundwork for a topical song movement which strongly influenced the 1950s-'60s folk "revival". Songs he wrote - "This Land Is Your Land", "Pastures of Plenty", "Pretty Boy Floyd", and literally thousands of others - have been sung by generations of artists since. Before Guthrie, singers and songwriters were separate entities in the music industry. But, his stage presence, poetics, and grasp on musical performance set a standard for the singer-songwriter which remains influential to this day.
Listen closely to this stream and you'll hear the reach of his influence in the recordings of his protégé Pete Seeger, those of revival folksingers like Joan Baez, and 21st century innovators like Ani DiFranco and Old Crow Medicine Show. Though Woody Guthrie died in 1967, his 100th birthday is a celebration of not only one man's legacy, but the songs which have, for the past century, given voice to working folks everywhere.