This Land Was Made for You and Me

The Fireside—News and Views from The Living New Deal

This Land Was Made for You and Me

Like thousands of other Dust Bowl refugees, Woody Guthrie migrated to California. He scraped by, busking for spare change, washing dishes, sweeping floors. In 1937, he got a job at a small radio station in LA. As his popularity grew, Woody mimeographed copies of his songs to mail to fans.

In his songbook, “Ten Songs for Two Bits,” Woody wrote: “In these ten songs you will hear a lot of music of a lot of races. Songs of every color. Every people loves and copies the songs and the music, the ideas, the customs, of all the other races. Songs like these soak into every wall, hall, factory, every hull of every ship, every hammer coming down on every anvil, every seed falling down into every row, every hand moving with a dust rag, a wheel, a lever, a dial, a handle, a button pushed…I have never heard a nation of people sing an editorial out of a newspaper. A man sings about the little things that help him or hurt his people and he sings of what has got to be done to fix this world like it ought to be.

Woody would go on to write a thousand such songs, including “This Land Is Your Land,” a protest song in response to Irving Berlin’s patriotic hymn, “God Bless America,” which Woody felt glossed over the lop-sided distribution of wealth in America . “This Land is Your Land” was performed at the presidential inauguration last month—an appeal for unity. But Woody’s song reminds us that we have much work to do “to fix this world like it ought to be.”

Watch: A montage of “This Land Is Your Land,” from the film “Woody Guthrie: Hard Travelin” (3 minutes)

Watch: Sharon Jones and the Dapp Kings: This Land Is Your Land

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