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Garrison Keillor’s “The Writers’ Almanac” reports that today is Woody Guthrie’s birthday. He may be America’s most beloved and most often sung folk singer. Everyone sings “This Land is My Land,” but not usually with all the lyrics. Guthrie was radical in his politics, having experienced the hard times of the Depression. At one point, he lived in an apartment in Queens owned by Fred Trump, and he wrote a song about how Trump didn’t rent to black people.
Today is the birthday of Woodrow Wilson — aka “Woody” Guthrie, born in Okemah, Oklahoma (1912). Woody Guthrie never finished high school, but he spent his spare time reading books at the local public library. He took occasional jobs as a sign painter and started playing music on a guitar he found in the street. During the Dust Bowl in the mid-1930s, Guthrie followed workers who were moving to California. They taught him traditional folk and blues songs, and Guthrie went on to write thousands of his own, including “This Train Is Bound for Glory.” In 1940, he wrote the folk classic “This Land Is Your Land” because he was growing sick of Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America.”
Woody Guthrie once said: “I hate a song that makes you think that you’re not any good. […] Songs that run you down or songs that poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or your hard traveling. I am out to fight those kinds of songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood.”