|By Brett Weiss
TULSA, Okla. — An inspiration to singer/songwriters, progressive intellectuals and those who feel they’ve been disenfranchised by corrupt businessmen, lawyers and politicians, Woody Guthrie is a literal folk hero, penning such sing-along classics as I Ain’t Got No Home, Tom Joad, Hard Travelin’ and, most famously, This Land is Your Land.
Guthrie’s handwritten copy of This Land Is Your Land, which he wrote in 1940, is available for viewing at the new Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, Okla. In addition, the 12,000-square-foot facility houses song lyrics, rare books – by and about Guthrie, handwritten songbooks, original artwork and manuscripts, personal journals, periodicals, photographs and personal papers related to his family, musical career and World War II military service.
Woody was born Woodrow Wilson Guthrie July 14, 1912 in Okemah, Okla., the second-born son of Charles and Nora Guthrie. He was named after Woodrow Wilson, who was Governor of New Jersey at the time and would soon be elected President of the United States as the Democratic candidate.
During his prolific life, which was cut short on Oct. 3, 1967 by Huntington’s disease, Guthrie wrote nearly 3,000 songs. He also created numerous works of art and wrote hundreds of letters, poems and articles, along with two novels, including the posthumously published House of Earth (Infinitum Nihil/HarperCollins), which hit bookstores in February. He was a true renaissance man.
For Ken Levit, executive director of the Woody Guthrie Center, this local, formalized, permanent recognition of Guthrie, whose work influenced Bob Dylan, John Mellencamp, John Prine, Pete Seeger and numerous other performers, is overdue.
“We are thrilled to finally announce the opening of the Woody Guthrie Center, here in his home state of Oklahoma,” Levit said. “This archive will be available to scholars and researchers so that we can continue to tell the story of this remarkable Oklahoman for generations to come. The Guthrie family has inspired us with their loving and creative stewardship of these materials, and we are proud to provide a permanent home for this incredible collection in the Brady Arts District of Tulsa.”
Deana McCloud, who books and produces concerts for the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in Okemah, Okla. each year – the next one is July 10-14 – also serves as executive director of the WGC.
She’s excited about the educational opportunities afforded by the center’s interactive displays, where visitors can learn about how Guthrie lost his sister to a coal-oil fire when he was seven years old, performed as a street musician when he was a teenager, migrated to California to escape The Dust Bowl, landed a life-changing job at KFVD radio in Los Angeles, served as a Merchant Marine during World War II, achieved commercial success with his band, the Weavers, and more.
“This is more than just a collection of Woody Guthrie memorabilia,” she said. “It’s an educational center that will serve as an inspiration for visitors and a venue through which to share his legacy with the world. As a veteran classroom teacher, I know that there is a huge potential for engaging students as well as teachers in the educational programs and inquiry that the center will inspire.”
Contact: (918) 574-2710