(1912 – 1967)
Before Bruce Springsteen, before Bob Dylan, there was Woody Guthrie, the original Folk hero. During the 30s and 40s, Guthrie was instrumental in elevating Folk music to a form of social protest and observation, and in doing so, inspired a generation of songwriters.
Guthrie was born into relatively fortunate circumstances; his father had established a successful real estate career in their native Oklahoma. However, by Woody's eighth birthday, the elder Guthrie's business collapsed, and a hardscrabble existence befell the Guthrie family for the remainder of Woody's formative years.
He was a voracious reader and had a natural affinity for music, and in his youth taught himself to play the guitar and harmonica. By the time he had married and started a family, the advent of the Dust Bowl drove him to leave his family behind to join many thousands of his Oklahoma compatriots in the great migration to California. The economic hardship he witnessed amongst the migrant workers of the Dust Bowl era inspired Guthrie's songwriting and soon elements of social activism and commentary began to dominate his work.
Guthrie ultimately established himself in New York City, and recorded extensively with famed folklorist Alan Lomax. Amongst Guthrie's notable works are songs such as "Pastures Of Plenty," "Talkin' Dust Bowl Blues" and the enduring American classic "This Land Is Your Land,"
Bob Dylan, perhaps Guthrie's most famous devotee, moved to New York City at age 19 in large part to seek out his musical hero. By the time he arrived, Guthrie was suffering from Huntington's Disease, and was hospitalized; Dylan frequently visited Guthrie in the hospital. Guthrie died of complications from the illness in 1967.