Guthrie’s most famous song, “This Land Is Your Land,” was written in 1940 in response to Kate Smith’s "God Bless America.” "Woody saw ['God Bless America'] as a strident, jingoistic, complacent, tub-thumping anthem to American greatness,” Kaufman says. “And now, he had just come from the Dust Bowl. He’d just come from the barbed-wire gates of California’s Eden there. He’d seen the Hoovervilles. He’d seen the bread lines. He’d seen labor activists getting their heads busted. And so, he’s thinking, what — God bless — what America, you know, is Kate Smith singing of?” In 2009, Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen performed “This Land Is Your Land” for the inauguration of President Obama.
Over the next hour, we’ll hear from folk singer Pete Seeger, the British musician Billy Bragg and the historian Will Kaufman. But first, Woody Guthrie, in his own words, being interviewed by the musicologist Alan LomaxThere ye go! Enjoy.
ALAN LOMAX: What did your family do? What kind of people were they, and where did they come from?
WOODY GUTHRIE: Well, they come in there from Texas in the early day. My dad got to Oklahoma right after statehood. He was the first clerk of the county court in Okemah, Oklahoma, after statehood, as he is known as one of them old, hard-hitting, fist-fighting Democrats, you know, that run for office down there, and they used to miscount the votes all the time. So every time that my dad went to town, it was common the first question that I ask him when he come riding in on a horse that evening, I’d say, "Well, how many fights did you have today?" And then he’d take me up on his knee, and he’d proceed to tell me who he is fighting and why and all about it. "Put her there, boy. We’ll show these fascists what a couple hillbillies can do."