But Guthrie’s long-term influence as a singer-songwriter can’t be overstated. “For the folk revivalists,” Place says, “Woody was the great folksinger, the authentic voice. He wasn’t the first to do this, but [with] the concept of the singer-songwriter, he was the really big one. Nowadays, most people who play acoustic guitar are going to play their own songs. But before Guthrie,hardly anyone was doing that.”
His music has been championed over the decades, from Pete Seeger and the early New York folk scene to Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, U2, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Willie Nelson, Wilco, Billy Bragg, Jay Farrar, Ani DiFranco, Judy Collins, Joan Baez and many more. And of course that doesn’t factor in every singer who learned and was influenced by “This Land Is Your Land” as a kid. That list would fill a phone book. (Younger readers will need to Google “phone book.”)
As a freshman at Brown in 1973, Doug Mishkin learned that the citizens of Guthrie’s Oklahoma home town were engaged in a heated debate as to whether they should honor their native son. That inspired Mishkin, now a Washington lawyer who lives in Bethesda, to write a song about Guthrie and his influence.
The song, “We Are All Woody’s Children,” found its way to a New York radio station, WQXR, and Robert Sherman, who hosted the Woody’s Children radio program, added it to the playlist. Mishkin returned to sing the song on anniversary editions of the show. Earlier this year, he rounded up some of his folkie friends — including Peter Yarrow, Tom Chapin, Christine Lavin, Tom Paxton, Catie Curtis and others — to celebrate the Guthrie centennial by producing a revised version of the song and a video that Mishkin posted late last month on the Web site Woodyschildren.com.
Mishkin says he came to know about Guthrie through Pete Seeger. “Seeger said that he and Guthrie had this vision of putting guitars and banjos in the hands of ordinary people,” Mishkin says. “They wanted to get everybody singing and not have their music choices limited by commercial radio stations. And what is stunning is the extent to which they succeeded. They accomplished something quite profound.”