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happy birthday, woody.

July 14, 2012

Today marks the centennial of Woody Guthrie’s birth, a working-class musician whose music has inspired and educated generations of political activists and musicians. Guthrie is probably best known for “This Land Is Your Land” — one of the most popular folk songs of all time, originally written as a critical response to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” which Guthrie felt was overplayed and unrealistic — but he wrote over 3,000 songs throughout his prolific career. Often dubbed ‘a poet of the people,’ many of his songs were about his experiences travelling with migrant workers through the US during the Dust Bowl era of the Great Depression, reflecting the perspective of working-class Americans and the difficulties they faced in the midst of such economic privation. He also wrote numerous songs celebrating the working class and working-class struggles, as well as protesting social injustice, earning him his status as the father of the modern protest song. His ‘hard-hitting songs for hard-hit people’ inspired the likes of Bob Dylan to pick up the guitar and Howard Zinn to become a tireless activist for social justice—and their radical optimism continues to resonate, inspiring a whole new generation of listeners. That’s one hell of a legacy.

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