Folk artist Woody Guthrie has been heralded at gatherings across the country this year in celebration of his 100th birthday. The culminating event occurs this week in a concert featuring renowned artists whose lives and works have been influenced by his songs and writings. The collaboration between the Kennedy Center and the Grammy Museum tapped reams of documents for Guthrie's musical and literary gems reflecting his fight for change throughout the world, concern for the downtrodden and love for his heritage.
Few sounds spark fervent patriotism faster than the opening notes of "This Land Is Your Land." But this masterpiece is merely a blip among the thousands of songs, letters, poems and documents stored and researched at the Woody Guthrie Archives in Andover, Mass. The long list of Kennedy Center performers inspired by him reads like a who's who of folk music over the past half-century. Among them are his son, Arlo Guthrie, Judy Collins, Rosanne Cash, John Mellencamp, Jimmy LaFave, Ry Cooder, Rob Wasserman, Jackson Browne and Joel Rafael. Each encountered Guthrie's music at a moment of enlightenment that has resonated down the decades.
Rafael has been so deeply influenced by him that two of his recordings are devoted to Guthrie. Like other musicians and historians, he found his best sources to be family members, the Guthrie Archives and the Huntington Disease Foundation, which is devoted to curing the ailment that felled Guthrie at age 55.
|'This Land is Your Land: Woody Guthrie at 100'|
|Where: Kennedy Center Concert Hall, 2700 F St. NW|
|When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday|
|Info: Sold out at press time, but tickets may be available through resellers; 202-467-4600; 800-444-1324; kennedy-center.org|
Rafael's "Woodeye: Songs of Woody Guthrie," released in 2003, contains 12 of the troubadour's songs, one of his own and one he co-wrote by setting Guthrie's words to music. His second album, "Woodyboye: Songs of Woody Guthrie (and Tales Worth Telling) Vol. 2," came out in 2005 with four unpublished lyrics.
"Woody was a renaissance man," Rafael said. "In addition to composing over 3,000 songs, he was a painter, a poet and a visual artist. I integrated his music into mine because of my respect for him and understanding of him as a man. He talked about real things in life in human terms.
"A lot of Woody's music is rooted in the fiddle and banjo playing of Appalachia because that's where the folks who settled in Oklahoma originated. He's one of those voices in American music and poetry who was progressive and sensed the concepts from the '60s right down to the present. His talking blues anticipated rap. He was so beloved and influential that Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger traveled to visit him during the last years of his life."