As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.
Although “This Land is Your Land,” is Guthrie’s most famous song, he is also responsible for thousands of others, an autobiography (“Bound for Glory”) and scads of paintings and drawings. The entire scope of his relatively brief career — Guthrie’s prime period of productivity lasted little more than a decade — is given a loving and thoughtful overview in the just-released, “Woody at 100: The Woody Guthrie Centennial Collection,” a handsome book produced by Smithsonian Folkways and curated by Place and Robert Santelli.
In addition to many previously unseen photographs of Guthrie and images of his typed and often revised lyrics, the collection contains three CDs with dozens of Guthrie’s recordings, including six original songs that have not been heard before and 21 previously unreleased performances. It’s a sumptuous summation of a career that has affected and shaped American music for generations. And it is one of the highlights of a year-long celebration of Guthrie that will feature tribute concerts all over the world, including one by his granddaughter, Sarah Lee Guthrie, in Washington on Tuesday, and a birthday concert on Saturday by the U-Liners and Magpie at the Takoma Park Civic Auditorium. A high-profile Guthrie tribute will take place at the Kennedy Center on Oct. 14.
“All different genres of music encounter those who are solar flares,” Place says. “People who changed the music entirely — Robert Johnson, Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams, Jimi Hendrix. They are there for a brief period of time and change things entirely. Everything is different after them, and Woody Guthrie is like that. Topical songwriting is based on his model.”
Woodrow Wilson Guthrie was born July 14, 1912, in Okemah, Okla. He died in 1967 at 55, felled by Huntington’s disease, a neurodegenerative genetic disorder that wore him down physically and mentally in the last third of his life. But in the prime of his career, from the mid-1930s to the late 1940s, Guthrie produced songs that would define the era, songs that spoke to the hardships of Depression-era America, Dust Bowl refugees, migrant workers, labor strife, racial inequity, economic justice and war.