Politics, United States

The Voice of Woody Guthrie

We all know these famous lyrics  “this land is your land, this land is my land from California to the New York island, from the redwood forest to the gulf stream waters, this land was made for you and me.” It gave meaning to how beautiful America was and how you could do anything. When really it was a beacon of hope for one of the worst times in American history called The Great Depression.  Woody Guthrie lived during a time where many working class citizens couldn’t find a place to work, became homeless, and lost hope in the American dream. Woody wrote many songs protesting about these unfair and greedy times in America. Woody also influenced so many other great artists in the past and present like Ed Sheeran , Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Lumineers, and Mumford and Sons. Did Woody Guthrie become a voice for the citizens during the rough time of The Great Depression ?

The Great Depression started in October of 1929 when the stock market crashed. Industries were failing, 13 million Americans lost their jobs, and the income was reduced to an average of 40%. Many people were very hopeless since they had no way of hiding from this debt that they had to deal with. Many people were looking for answers on how to deal with solution since the American dream had died. No matter how hard people had worked the rich would keep thriving. This made people think that capitalism wasn’t a great solution after all and should even turn to communism since the Soviet Union was not affected. America also had a weak banking structure, their was no new innovations, war debts from World War 1, and an unequal distribution of wealth. Organizations like the Civilian Conservation Corps gave work to people working in parks and environmental projects. To also add on to the struggle of The Great Depression there was huge dust storms in the midwest that killed people, livestock, and crops. This put many farmers out of work forcing them to migrate to find work. The Dust Bowl destroyed over 35 million acres of land in 1939. The main states that were affected were Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Georgia, and Tennessee. This forced many farmers whose land was destroyed to move to California, but ended up finding out that their was still suffering and still hard to find work in California.

Woody Guthrie was born in Oklahoma on July 14, 1912. Woody got into folk music because of his parents teaching him songs as a young kid. This inspired him to write songs protesting what was wrong during The Great Depression like “This Land Is Your Land.” “By the relief office, I’d seen my people. As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking, Is this land made for you and me? This is lyrics from the original version of “This Land Is Your Land.” This shows the rough times many Americans went through during The Great Depression. Showing how this land was only made for the rich it was not meant for everyone. “Pretty Boy Floyd” is a robin hood song based on a true story about a bank robber in Oklahoma. “Yes, as through this world I’ve wandered I’ve seen lots of funny men; Some will rob you with a six-gun, And some with a fountain pen.” This song talks about how the bankers and stockbrokers are the real criminals. Using only a pen to write off your house, property, and car because you can’t pay it off. While the bank robbers and killers are actually the true heros. Giving money to the poor so that they have a means of living. “Do Re Mi” is a song on how the Dust Bowl affected so many people and they had no place to run. “If you ain’t got the do re mi, boys, you ain’t got the do re mi, Why, you better go back to beautiful Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Georgia, Tennessee. California is a garden of Eden, a paradise to live in or see; But believe it or not, you won’t find it so hot If you ain’t got the do re mi.” Do Re Mi in the song is referred to as money. If you didn’t have money to get into California then their was no point and going their. So Woody tells the people to just stay where you are because you are better off suffering in your own state. This shows how likable and relatable Woodys music was to The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Since he himself went through these struggles losing his land to the sandstorms and moving to California to provide for his family in Oklahoma.

Since Woody Guthrie had become such a huge artist in America, he influenced many in the music world. Artists such as John Mayer, Ed Sheeran, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen. Guthrie’s songs always talked about struggle and hope which influenced a lot of artists in the folk genre of music to continue on with this tradition. His songs also talked about major problems that were huge in America back then but now there are lots of artists who now talk about problems that occur today. He has been known to show “true American spirit” throughout the music world.   “The note of hope is the only note that can help us from falling to the bottom http://www.highbrowmagazine.com/1273-influence-woody-guthrie-continues-hundred-years-laterof the heap of evolution, because, largely, about all a human being is, anyway, is just a hoping machine”, a passage from Woody Guthrie’s book “Pastures of Plenty”. This quote is basically saying that hope is super important to human beings in this world because it keeps us from going backwards in evolution as a race. Hope is what helps people continue on with whatever they are wanting to pursue so Woody Guthrie was the one back then who gave the people such a power.

While people were in deep troubles back then, Woody Guthrie was there for them to support and give out hope to ones who need it. The Dust Bowl and The Great Depression were hard times for citizens of the US, but Woody Guthrie was still there to give hope. His song “This Land Is Your Land” tells people across the United States that you should stay where you are currently living because moving somewhere else will not solve your problems. He was the man who wrote songs that would inspire many to do great things in this world. With all of this information known about him, there is still more to tell. People today should recognize what a huge influence he put on the people of the early 1900’s and especially how much he influenced today’s popular music. If there was no Woody Guthrie to have existed in this world, America would be a totally different country without him.

Article by Vincent Sinclair and Grant Frisesen

Works Cited

Written By Lynne Margolis // June 28, 2012. “Behind The Song: ‘This Land Is Your Land’ « American Songwriter.” American Songwriter, 8 Feb. 2013, americansongwriter.com/2012/06/behind-the-song-this-land-is-your-land/.

Written by Benjamin Wright // July 8, 2012. “The Influence of Woody Guthrie” http://www.highbrowmagazine.com/1273-influence-woody-guthrie-continues-hundred-years-later

A Passage from Woody Guthrie’s book “Pasture of Plenty”


THE DUST BOWL a film by Ken Burns/ biographies tab


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