Guthrie, Woodrow

Guthrie, (Woodrow Wilson) “Woody”

(1912–67) folk musician; born in Okemah, Okla. (father of Arlo Guthrie). Son of an alcoholic, he was farmed out to relatives and friends while still a teenager after his mother was hospitalized for Huntington's chorea. During the 1930s he lived a hobo's life, traveling with his guitar until 1937, when he became a successful radio personality with Here Comes Woody and Lefty Lou on KFVD in Los Angeles. Drawing from his travels, he wrote or adapted more than 1,000 songs, performing at political rallies and on picket lines. Ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax began recording his songs in the 1940s, including his most famous, "This Land is Your Land" (1940), and introduced him to other folksingers in New York, like Pete Seeger, with whom Guthrie performed in the Almanac Singers. Guthrie wrote an autobiography, Bound for Glory (1943), and served in the U.S. merchant marine (1943–45). A hero to protest singers like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez in the 1960s, he spent his last 15 years in hospitals, ravaged by Huntington's chorea.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.