Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Yo Woodie Guthrie - Thanks for the Song!

It was on this day in 1940 that Woody Guthrie wrote the lyrics to "This Land is Your Land" — now one of America's most famous folk songs (below is one of my favorite versions - love the brass!)

The melody is to an old Baptist hymn. Guthrie wrote the song in response to the grandiose "God Bless America" song, written by Irving Berlin and sung by Kate Smith. Guthrie didn't think that the anthem represented his own or many other Americans' experience with America. So he wrote a folk song as a response to Irving Berlin's "God Bless America," a song that was often accompanied by an orchestra. At first, Guthrie titled his own song "God Blessed America" — past tense. Later, he changed the title to "This Land is Your Land," which is the first line of the song.
Although Guthrie wrote the words to the song in his notebook on this day in 1940, he didn't perform it until 1944, and it was several years more still before he published it in a book of mimeographed folk songs. The song really took off in the 1960s. Bob Dylan did a famous version, and the song was huge in the Civil Rights movement.

Several other countries have appropriated the great American folk song. There's a Canadian version with the lyrics: "From Bonavista to Vancouver Island / From the Arctic Circle to the Great Lakes waters, / This land was made for you and me."

In a British version, which Billy Bragg often performs, it's "From the coast of Cornwall to the Scottish Highlands / From the sacred forests to the holy islands /This land was made for you and me."

And for the Irish, it's: "From the northern highlands to the western islands / From the hills of Kerry to the streets of Derry / This land was made for you and me."

There are Welsh and Swedish texts as well. Bruce Springsteen sang "This Land is Your Land" at 2008 rallies for candidate Barack Obama, and then performed it at the big Obama inaugural celebration concert at the Lincoln Memorial, We Are One, which 400,000 people attended.

Lifted directly from Writer's Almanac. Thank you Garrison Keillor.