WOODY´S EDUCATION CENTRE LEGACY& Phil Ochs´ Fellowship
Norman Warwick examines
WOODY´S EDUCATION CENTRE LEGACY
& Phil Ochs´ Fellowship
photo 1 His archive of work, housed at the Woody Guthrie Center®, consists of more than 100 notebooks, correspondence, and many other documents that show his mission to speak for the disenfranchised. Woody wasn’t simply a writer of protest songs; he was a committed activist who lived by very humanist principles. Activism wasn’t something Woody did. It’s who he was.
Woody’s message continues to change the world as he inspires a new generation of artists and activists to take a stand. Without contemporary forms of communication, the bards brought stories to people. That’s what Woody did.
He spoke up for the Dust Bowl migrants, bringing attention to their plight in a way that the listeners to his radio show, The Woody and Lefty Lou Show, were able to understand. He travelled with his African American friends and fellow musicians, breaking a colour barrier during a time when that wasn’t readily acceptable. Woody was fearless and always ready to fight for those who needed help.
Woody’s empathy allowed him to insert himself into the stories of others, and he shared those narratives through music, prose, and artwork. He often wrote “I ain’t dead yet.” We feel his presence and see his influence when people everywhere speak out for those who need a voice and shine a light on injustice in our world.
Named after President Woodrow Wilson, Woody was born on July 14, 1912, in Okemah, Oklahoma. Okemah was one of the first oil boom towns and was bursting with activity at the time of his birth. Okemah is in the heart of the Muscogee-Creek Nation, and near Boley, one of Oklahoma’s largest and most prosperous Black towns.
Although Okemah was a vibrant, bustling, and diverse city, that diversity did not mean equality for all members of the community. Woody did not emerge from the earth an enlightened human being; rather, he grew up in an era and in a region that actively promoted the mistreatment of non-Whites. Okemah was a “Sundown town” — a term that came from signs posted that people of color had to leave town by sundown — near an area called “Little Dixie.” His father was likely a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and young Woody absorbed the sounds of prejudice as well as the culturally diverse sounds around him.
At the Woody Guthrie Center, these truths about his background are shared to show the potential we all have for change. As Woody travelled and broadened his world view, he turned away from those racist ideas and became one of our first and most vocal advocates for civil rights. His writings in the early 1940s and ’50s are enlightened, powerful messages of equality and could have easily been written by activists during the American civil rights movement.
Fires were a constant issue in Woody’s life. When he was 6, his older sister, Clara, died from burns suffered in a house fire. Several years later, his father, Charlie, was seriously injured in another house fire. As a result, Woody’s father moved to Pampa, Texas, to be nursed back to health in his brother’s home, while Woody’s mother, Nora, was committed to a mental institution due to her battle with Huntington’s disease.
Fire also plagued Woody in his adult life. Cathy, his first daughter from his second marriage, was burned in an apartment fire when she was four and died from her injuries. When Huntington’s disease started affecting Woody himself, he suffered severe burns to his arm.
We feel his presence and see his influence when people everywhere speak out for those who need a voice and shine a light on injustice in our world.
Woody’s cousin Jack Guthrie lived in Los Angeles, and the two formed a radio show partnership in 1937. That show was short-lived, and when Jack left the show, Woody became radio partners with their friend Maxine (Lefty Lou) Crissman.
The Woody and Lefty Lou Show was an almost immediate success, and the duo began receiving hundreds of fan letters. Woody knew that his voice was reaching the listening audience and that he could use that connection to speak for his people — the migrants who were simply looking for a good job to allow them to feed their families.
Woody was never a member of any political party. His views weren’t a political ideology; rather, they were a humanist perspective. In his own words, “Left wing, right wing, chicken wing, it don’t make no difference to me.” Instead of a communist, Woody thought of himself as a “commonist,” fighting for the common people.
Known for his opposition to fascism, in the early 1940s Woody painted the now-famous phrase “this machine kills fascists” on his guitar, consequently inspiring many artists who came after him. He continued writing the phrase on his guitars after the end of World War II, because he still felt the threat from fascists who would oppress the rights of the people.
Woody never “made it big” during his lifetime. His goal wasn’t personal wealth but to remain true to his ideals and work for the people. He walked away from many good jobs because someone in the corporate hierarchy tried to control what he said.
Woody sang the songs and said the things that needed to be said, and those things didn’t always work for a company’s idea of commercial success.
Some of Woody’s most well-known songs are “Oklahoma Hills,” “Pretty Boy Floyd,” “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Yuh,” and “Do Re Mi.” But by far his most famous is “This Land Is Your Land.”
Woody wrote “This Land is Your Land” on February 23, 1940, in New York City, after traveling across the country from California. It was written as an observation piece about the country and the people he encountered, but it was also a protest against Kate Smith’s idealized version of “God Bless America,” which was constantly being played on the radio at the time. Woody also praised the beauty of the landscape, but rather than asking God to bless us again, his answer in the song that he originally titled “God Blessed America” was to question how we were sharing and caring for those blessings.
After Woody’s death, his dear friend Pete Seeger (left) kept “This Land is Your Land” alive and popularized as he shared with young people. When Seeger was blacklisted during the McCarthy era, he took the music of empowerment to schools, camps, and other youth gatherings to make sure that the next generation was ready to take the lead in the fight for freedom and equality.
The Woody Guthrie Center has the original handwritten lyrics of “This Land is Your Land,” as well as videos of others’ renditions of the song.
Released in 1940, Dust Bowl Ballads was Woody’s first and most popular album. Sharing the human experience of the Dust Bowl and its effects, this album is considered one of the first concept albums. Dust Bowl Ballads was later reissued by Folkways Recordings in 1950, and you can listen to the songs at the Woody Guthrie Center.
Woody had three wives: Mary, Marjorie, and Anneke. He married Mary in 1933, in Texas, and eventually they had three children: Gwen, Sue, and Bill. Woody named his first son after Will Rogers, a fellow Oklahoma native whom Woody greatly admired.
Woody and Marjorie married in New York in 1945, and they had four children together: Cathy, Arlo, Joady, and Nora. Woody would go on to have one more child, Lorina, with Anneke, whom he married in 1953. Of his eight children, three are still with us: Nora, Arlo, and Joady.
Woody contracted the same illness that took his mother: Huntington’s disease, an incurable genetic disorder that causes progressive breakdown of nerve cells in the brain. He spent most of his last 13 years in a hospital. At the time, the disease was not understood, nor were there treatments. His hospitalization was, like his mother’s, in a mental institution.
During his hospitalization, friends and family would check him out of the hospital on weekends to provide him with a sense of normalcy. They shared music in their homes, listened to a new generation of musicians playing in Washington Square Park, and visited Coney Island.
Huntington’s disease took Woody from this world on October 3, 1967, in New York City. (His two daughters from his first marriage, Gwen and Sue, also succumbed to the disease.) After Woody’s death, his second wife, Marjorie, followed up on her promise to “do something” to fight this horrific disease. She retired from her career as a Martha Graham dancer and committed the rest of her life to advocate for research and treatment in the hopes of finding a cure. She founded the Committee to Combat Huntington’s Disease, which later became the Huntington’s Disease Society of America.
In his song “Changing World,” Woody Guthrie wrote, “Change the pen and change the ink / Change the way you talk and think … Change the ways of this changing world.”
Woody was an outspoken advocate for social justice and equality. Inspired by his words and his legacy, the Woody Guthrie Center® created the Oklahoma Changing World Prize to recognize those within the state who continue the fight for social justice. Equality and civil rights affect all of us because they reflect who we are as a people.
“Social justice advocates, such as those honored with this award, are seeking equality not only for themselves, but also to positively impact our entire society as we continue to seek justice for all,” says Woody Guthrie Center Executive Director Deana McCloud.
CHANGING WORLD PRIZE WINNERS
- Oklahoma Teachers (2019)
- Clara Luper and the 1958 NAACP Youth Council (2018)
- LaDonna Harris (2017)
- Samantha Elauf (2016)
- Mary and Sharon Bishop-Baldwin (2015)
Woody was in Pampa, Texas, when the worst of the Dust Bowl storms hit the Panhandle town, causing people to think the world was ending. The commotion inspired Woody to write “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Yuh,” mixing the tragedy of the event with the irony of a greedy preacher ready to take up a collection from those who were fearful. As he saw more and more people leaving the Plains states for California, Woody’s innate curiosity made him anxious to hit the road and see what was happening in the promised “Garden of Eden” on the West Coast.
Visitors to the Woody Guthrie Center can learn more about the era and its effect on Woody through our Dust Bowl virtual reality experience.
The Woody Guthrie Center® is dedicated to spreading Woody Guthrie’s message of diversity, equality, and justice. In today’s world, where it seems intolerance, bigotry, and violence are on the rise, it’s an honour to share this positive message with a new generation who can create their own ripples of change.
The facility honours Woody Guthrie’s life and legacy by educating visitors, teachers, students, and scholars about his relevance today and his important role in American history — through our on-site programming, classroom materials and youth music programs, artist-in-residence programs, school outreach, internship and fellowship opportunities, and the Woody Guthrie Center Archives
The Woody Guthrie Prize is given annually to an artist who best exemplifies Woody Guthrie’s spirit and work by speaking for the less fortunate through music, film, literature, dance, or other art forms and serving as a positive force for social change in America.
The Woody Guthrie prize has been awarded over the past few years to luminaries like Springsteen, Joan Baez, (left) . John Mellencamp, Kris Kristofferson, Mavis Staples and Pete Seeger.
“We hope that the Woody Guthrie Prize will shed an inspirational light on those who have decided to use their talents for the common good rather than for personal gain,” says Woody Guthrie’s daughter Nora. “With his dry wit, Woody always preferred to call himself a ‘commonist.’ His quote from John Steinbeck’s character, Tom Joad, says it pretty simply: ‘Wherever children are hungry and cry, wherever people ain’t free, wherever men are fightin’ for their rights, that’s where I’m gonna be.’
“There are so many people who are living this credo, and they’re the ones we will be honoring.”
Bruce Springsteen was recognized with the 2021 Woody Guthrie Prize for his work continuing Woody’s legacy in a virtual members-only event. With over 20 studio albums, Springsteen has used his storytelling ability to write songs that connect with people who faced the hard times and celebrated the good times. Often backed by the E Street Band, Springsteen’s music provides a soundtrack of resilience, strength, heart, and joy despite or even in spite of the struggles thrown our way. Drawing from his experiences growing up in New Jersey, Springsteen’s songs have connected on a universal level with fans worldwide.
Proceeds from the annual event help support the Woody Guthrie Center®, which features state-of-the-art, interactive exhibits on his life, art, and creative legacy. The center is home to Woody Guthrie’s comprehensive archives, including the original, handwritten version of his landmark anthem, “This Land is Your Land,” which is available for viewing at the center.
The Woody Guthrie Center® preserves his legacy and presents the social, political, and cultural values found in his vast body of work through curated exhibits, programs, and outreach. By showing how Woody Guthrie used his creativity to express the world around him, the centre encourages others to find their own voices and the power that lies within the creative process.
You can explore the Woody Guthrie Centre virtually through this YouTube playlist.
- 15-minute introductory film to the life of Woody Guthrie and his influences looped throughout the day in the center’s theater
- Woody’s Footsteps interactive timeline wall that follows his travels from Okemah, Oklahoma, to Pampa, Texas, then on to Los Angeles and New York
- The Dust Bowl area where visitors can learn more about the era and its effect on Woody through a Dust Bowl virtual reality experience, view an excerpt from Ken Burn’s documentary, and listen to Woody’s Dust Bowl Ballads
- Woody’s America interactive map that includes information about Woody’s life, music history, as well as Oklahoma, U.S., and world history
- Music Bar for listening to Woody’s recorded songs
- Lyric Journal of Woody’s lyrics according to selected topics
- Lyric Writing Station for composing an original verse to a song and submitting to the database
- Exhibits and videos of artists who continue Woody’s tradition of writing what they see
- The original handwritten lyrics of “This Land is Your Land” and videos of others’ renditions of the song
- Woody’s fiddle, guitar, banjo, and mandolin
In addition to on-site programming and high-profile traveling exhibits, we have curated virtual exhibits so people can experience Woody Guthrie Center from anywhere.
- ON EXHIBIT NOW
April 16, 2022
– September 25, 2022
“Bruce Springsteen Live!” provides fans with an intimate look into Springsteen’s creative process, shedding light on how he became—and remains— one of the greatest live performers in rock and roll history.
Woody Guthrie Center® internships give students opportunities to share their insights, explore the links between their academic work and a potential career, and assist in developing and carrying out major projects that serve the center’s mission. If you’re a student who wants to support our mission of spreading Woody Guthrie’s message of diversity, equality, and justice, submit your information for internship opportunities in your field of study.AST FACTS
In September 2014, the only daughter of Phil Ochs, Meegan Lee Ochs, donated an extensive collection of Phil Ochs materials to the Woody Guthrie Center Archives & Special Collections, including original lyrics, handwritten travel journals and notebooks, personal belongings, photographs, and audio and film recordings. In addition, the Woody Guthrie Center® was gifted the collections of Phil’s brother, Michael Ochs, and his sister, Sonny, in 2015 and 2018, respectively. Together these collections comprise more than 80 linear feet of archival materials related to the life of the folk singer and topical songwriter.
The annual Phil Ochs Fellowship is a partnership between the Woody Guthrie Center Archives and A Still Small Voice Inc. This annual opportunity awards up to $5,000 for research investigating folk music from 1930s-1980s related to Ochs and his contemporaries. This may also include related cross-disciplinary topics covering social change in American and global politics. Fellows are required to visit the archives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, within one year of award receipt and to produce a published creative work at the culmination of their research: within a three-year time frame
- Projects must be creative, viable, realistic and publishable.
- Researchers must provide a bibliography demonstrating a thorough understanding of available secondary source materials. The archives is comprised primarily of unpublished documents meant to be viewed after the initial stage of research is completed.
- Projects must be sufficiently extensive as to require a suggested minimum of two weeks of research in the archives.
HOW TO APPLY
Please upload the following materials as PDFs to the form below:
- *1500 -2500 word project summary/proposal including: project abstract/summary, current status of the project, other funding sources (such as awarded grants), project timeline, and bibliography/works already consulted.
- Professional resumé and/or curriculum vitae
- Budget proposal: this fellowship covers costs associated with travel to the archives including: air fare, taxi and/or Uber or Lyft services, per diem (for per diem please consult the GSA calculator), and lodging.
*No applications will be accepted that promote artists or musical compositions using original lyrics found in the archival collections.
It was quite incredible to learn just how much good work is still being generated by everything Woody Guthrie stood for in his lifetime..
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