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Woody Guthrie at 100
As we count down the days to the centennial celebration of the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, let's pause and celebrate another Woodrow Wilson centennial that just passed: October 3, 2012 was the 100th birthday of Woodrow Wilson Guthrie, more commonly known as "Woody."
Woody Guthrie was one of the most talented and influential musicians of the last century.The library offers a variety of books, DVD's, and CD's that feature his music and lyrics. For starters, I highly recommend "Woody at 100: The Woody Guthrie Centennial Collection." While there were many releases this year to celebrate the life and work of Guthrie, none compare to this landmark project from Smithsonian Folkways which features the Smithsonian's own recordings from the Moe Asch Collection, as well as recordings held in their Ralph Rinzler Collection. The book itself is beautiful, and the three CD set contains 21 previously unreleased recordings.
For a more contemporary take on Guthrie's lyrics, and to appreciate the power of his influence on modern day artists, spend some time listening to the "Mermaid Avenue" recordings. Originally released as three separate albums, "Mermaid Avenue" is a delightful if unexpected collaboration between British alt-folk musician Billy Bragg and American alt-country band Wilco. Bragg and Wilco wrote their own music to accompany Guthrie's previously unscored lyrics. The result ranges from fun, uptempo songs like "Hoodoo Voodoo" and "Hesitating Beauty," to slower, more tender tunes such as "Ingrid Bergman" and "California Stars"; songs that will touch your heart with their aching beauty.
If you'd like to learn about Woody Guthrie's life, there's no better place to start then his highly-regarded autobiography, "Bound for Glory," which describes his childhood, and his many travels across the country during the Great Depression picking fruit and riding the rails as hobo. Also check out Hal Ashby's 1976 film adaptation, starring David Carradine as Guthrie. Many of the specific scenes are fictionalized, but the wonderful soundtrack of Guthrie tunes and the amazing cinematography (which won a Best Cinematography Oscar for Haskell Wexler) will not disappoint.
There's much more Guthrie goodness available in the library. If you're interested in exploring, please check out this curated list of Guthrie materials available in the library collection.
Photo Credit: Library of Congress