"This Land is Your Land"
Guthrie, Woody. Woody Guthrie: The Asch Recordings, Vol. 1: This Land is Your Land. SFW CD 40112. Smithsonian Folkways, 1999 [Recorded c.1951]. CD 8182 v.1

QuickTime   MP3

Ballads: This Land is Your Land

The Great Depression of the 1930s shook Americans' fundamental belief in the benefits of industrialized society. It also acted as a catalyst for the "urban folk revival," a proletarian musical and political movement founded on Leftist ideology. Early revival groups, such as the Almanac Singers, the Weavers, and the Kingston Trio, modeled themselves on workers' choruses of the Communist and Socialist parties, which viewed the "people's" music as an important force in the struggle for equality.

Folklorists, including Alan and John Lomax, Charles Seeger, and Carl Sandburg, collected a treasure trove of music ranging from Texas cowboy songs to the blues laments of Southern prison inmates. These collections inspired early folk revivalists. Woody Guthrie, composer of the anthem "This Land Is Your Land," and legendary bluesman Leadbelly added original material and became some of the movement's earliest recorded voices. Guthrie's 1940 landmark album Dust Bowl Ballads marked a turning point in recording history as the first serious collection of social protest songs.

Another folk revivalist, Pete Seeger performed with the Weavers and the Almanac Singers. In his lifelong commitment to folk music and social activism, he has composed classics such as "If I Had a Hammer" and has popularized the repertory through song collections such as Hard Hitting Songs and Carry It On!


Klein, Joe. Woody Guthrie: A Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980.

Dust Bowl balladeer Woody Guthrie began his career as a country and western singer in Pampa, Oklahoma. He became a voice for the powerless, speaking for Oklahoma farmers, oppressed Southern blacks, and poor whites of Appalachia. Although Guthrie recorded the first serious social protest songs, his radical politics prevented the release of some of his albums until his death in 1967. By then, he was a legend whose influence had spread from left-wing bohemian circles to college campuses and the pop music charts.




Guthrie, Woody. This Land Is Your Land. Illustrated by Kathy Jakobsen. Boston: Little, Brown, 1998.

Woody Guthrie wrote "This Land Is Your Land" in 1940 on a cross-country hitchhiking trip. The original fourth line of each verse -- "God blessed America for me"--was a nod to another beloved anthem, Irving Berlin's "God Bless America." By 1949, when Guthrie recorded the song for Folkways Records, he had changed the fourth line to "This land was made for you and me."




Seeger, Pete, and Bob Reiser, eds. Carry it on! A History in Song and Picture of the Working Men and Women of America. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985.




Lomax, John A., and Alan Lomax, eds. Negro Folk Songs as Sung by Lead Belly. New York: Macmillan, 1936.

The legendary blues singer Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Leadbelly, was serving time for murder in prison in Angola, Louisiana, when John and Alan Lomax passed through on their 1933 recording trip for the Library of Congress. Leadbelly had amassed a repertoire of over 500 rural blues and folk songs. Using a 350-pound "portable" dictaphone recorder, the Lomaxes recorded many of these songs. On Leadbelly's release from Angola, John Lomax marketed the singer as an authentic link to African-American roots music, a vocal tradition distinct from that of England. Despite extensive recordings and performances, Leadbelly never realized financial success, at one point suing the Lomaxes to obtain adequate compensation.

The blues style of Leadbelly and other rural Southern blacks developed in the post-Civil War era. As plantation culture and work gangs disappeared from Southern life, a solo form known as a "holler" came into being. The "holler" gave rise to the blues, with its flattened tonalities called "blue notes." Leadbelly was among those who mastered bending the guitar's strings to complement these notes, assuming the title "king of the twelve-string guitar."



<< previous

next >>

Albert H. Small Special Collections Library
University of Virginia
PO Box 400498
Charlottesville VA 22904-2498
434/924-3025
Credits | Comments |  Special Collections
Library Home | Search the Library Web
Maintained by: webmanager_library@virginia. edu
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 16, 2009
© The Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia