In a July 15, 1946 letter, Woody Guthrie wrote the following:
“I think that I have proved that a folk singer, to sing best what the people have thought and are thinking, is forced to turn his back on the bids of Broadway and Hollywood to buy him and his talents out. I feel like my work in this field will someday be seen as the most radical, the most militant, and the most topical of them all…
“Every folk song that I know tells how to fix some things in this world to make it better, tells what is wrong with it, and what we’ve got to do to fix it better. If the song does not do this, then, it is no more of a folk song than I am a movie scout…
“When you ask yourself which of the so-called folk singers live up to the real name, you can cross lots of their names entirely off of your list…Ask yourself, does the singer, (artist or poet), take part in the fight to win a better world for the worker? There is only one big fight with a million and one legs to it, the fight of the worker to win his fair share from his owner (boss, etc.). The more the owners allow a singer to be heard around, the less he can sing the tale of the worker’s fight. Before your voice can be heard or your face fotographed, you must actually turn into a weapon of the owner against the workers. I know from a hundred cases of my own experience that any work of protest, fight, militance or plan for the worker, was blue penciled, and censored a dozen times. Any word that was too true, too strong, or too loud in criticizing the world owned by the big boss was scratched out by several hands under a thousand reasons.”
Coincidentally, among the pages contained in Woody Guthrie’s declassified post-1950s FBI file (#100-29988) is an April 10, 1951 memorandum from the FBI’s New York City office to the FBI Director on the subject “Woodrow Wilson Guthrie, Security Matter,” which states that “It is recommended that a Security Index Card be prepared on the above captioned individual.” This April 1951 document also categorizes Woody as “Communist,” indicates that “49 Murdock Court, Brooklyn, NY” is now Woody’s residence address and lists Woody’s “business address” as “Free Lance Folk Singer.”
For more information about Woody Guthrie’s historical contribution to U.S. musical history, you can check out the official Woody Guthrie site at www.woodyguthrie.org.
Next: Radio Nation Host and Blue Grit Author Laura Flanders: A 1991 Downtown Interview—Part 4