Famous Okies: Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie
Posted at 10:48 AM, Jul 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-14 11:48:28-04

Woody Guthrie was an American singer-songwriter and he is a famous Okie!

Born on July 14, 1912, as Woodrow Wilson Guthrie, he was raised in Okemah, Okla. He was named after future Pres. Woodrow Wilson as Guthrie's father, Charles, was heavily involved with local politics, even running for office in the county at one point.

According to the Woody Guthrie Center's website, three significant fires followed Guthrie's life and impacted him deeply.

  • The first caused the Guthries to lose their family home.
  • The second resulted in the loss of Guthrie's older sister Clara.
  • The third caused his father to be severely burned and his mother to be committed to a local mental hospital as a consequence of Huntington's Disease.

By the age of 14, Woody and his siblings were on their own.

During this time of struggle, Guthrie showed a natural talent for music. Guthrie learned folk and blues songs from his parents' friends. He would do odd jobs as well as busk on the streets for money and food to survive. Before his senior year of high school, Guthrie would move to join his father, where a major event in history would change Guthrie's life.

READ MORE: Oklahomans inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

The start of the dust storms came, the time most commonly referred to as the Dust Bowl, while Guthrie's time in Pampa, Texas. It stayed that way for the rest of the decade.

During the Dust Bowl, Guthrie expanded his musical talents by learning the guitar, banjo, the fiddle, and other instruments. Guthrie would use his time writing the struggles and conditions working-class people faced every day, even after migrating west to California for work.

When he arrived in Los Angeles, he worked for the local radio station KFVD and achieved some success by starting a band with Maxine "Lefty Lou" Crissman. They would achieve local success before Guthrie was encouraged to move to New York, where it would make the biggest impact on his creativity as a musician.

Guthrie, over his life, wrote hundreds of folk and country songs, as well as ballads. Some of his most well-known songs are "Do Re Mi," "Pretty Boy Floyd," “Oklahoma Hills,” and “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Yuh." It has been argued that Guthrie's best song he had ever written is "This Land is Your Land," a song written to oppose "God Bless America."

During his later years, Guthrie became an icon in the folk music movement, providing inspiration to new folk and country musicians. Songwriters like Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Bruse Springsteen, John Mellencamp, and more have cited Guthrie as a major influence on their work.

READ MORE: Bruce Springsteen to accept the 2021 Woody Guthrie Prize

Guthrie would eventually contract Huntington's Disease, like his mother, and pass in 1967.

Today, the Woody Guthrie Center celebrates one of America’s greatest folksingers and most influential songwriters of all time in Tulsa, Okla. The facility is dedicated to spreading Woody Guthrie’s message of diversity, equality, and justice.

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