Woody Guthrie and Occupy

12 Jul

In a wonderful accident of good timing, the 100th anniversary of Woody Guthrie’s birth (July 14) comes as the Occupy Wall Street movement is re-energizing the American Left. Guthrie viewed his music as part of the struggle for social justice. He wrote songs about families facing foreclosure by unscrupulous banks, migrant Mexican farm workers exploited by agribusiness, and politicians who turned a blind eye to the widespread suffering — topics that unfortunately still resonate today. He also penned patriotic songs about America’s promise and its natural beauty, and angry songs encouraging Americans to organize unions and protest against injustice.

This year, the Los Angeles-based Grammy Museum and the Guthrie Foundation and Archives is sponsoring “Woody at 100,” a series of concerts, conferences and museum exhibits to celebrate the life and music of the radical troubadour and songwriter, including a tribute concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. on October 14. Guthrie’s daughter Nora (who oversees the Foundation and Archives) hopes that the centennial celebration will introduce younger Americans not only to Guthrie’s music but also to the tradition of linking songs to social protest. Tulsa’s George Kaiser Family Foundation has purchased the comprehensive Woody Guthrie Archives and has opened a downtown space to display parts of the collection later this year.

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