Woody Guthrie was a folk singer who inspired Bob Dylan and other singer/songwriters. But he was also more than just a singer/songwriter. He also wrote novels, plays, poems and articles. Two of his novels were published. He enjoyed art and did paintings and drawings. Interestingly there are similarities here with Bob Dylan. He wrote poetry before he started to write poetic songs. He also enjoyed painting.
Guthrie's parents Charles and Nora were musical and obviously had an effect on his musical talent. His father was a cowboy as well as being involved in local politics and invested in land. It's the job as cowboy I like best though! Anyway probably because he was a cowboy his father taught him Indian songs, western songs and even Scottish folk tunes.
Woodrow Wilson Guthrie was born on the 14th July 1912 in Okemah, Oklahoma. At a young age he suffered the loss of his older sister who died accidentally and the death of his mother. The family suffered finically after his hometown was discovered to have oil. Bringing people to the town in droves in the hope they would make money. But as Shakespeare once said "All that glitters is not gold." The town now full of people expecting wonderful things were to find out within a few years that the oil would suddenly dry up. So the town did have oil but it wasn't the kind that lasts forever like everyone had assumed.
Guthrie went to Pampa; Texas in 1931 it was here that he met his first wife Mary Jennings. They married 2 years later and had 3 children. Mary's brother Matt Jennings was a friend and fellow musician of Guthrie's. They together with Cluster Baker created The Corn Cob Trio. They then became Pampa Junior Chamber of Commerce Band.
The Corn Cob Trio sounds much better though.
Guthrie had to move again however after what became known as the great dust bowl storm. A drought and dust storms made people move from various places such as Oklahoma, Kansas, Tennessee and Georgia. He went to California taking odd jobs so he could support himself and his family. Californians didn't like the sudden migration of people from other parts of the country. Despite the unpleasantness he managed to get work singing on local radio. He also used the radio station to speak his mind expressing his opinions on the rights and wrongs of various things. He then began to write songs about his life experiences.
After four years he moved to New York. It was here he recorded hid first album. He also formed a group called the Almanac singers. They sang about the problems in society as well as protest and political songs. Some of the group would later become The Weavers. They were hugely popular during the 1950's.
Guthrie seems a bit of a gypsy, unable to settle anywhere for long. He set off again in 1941. He was fed up as he didn't want to conform to other people's rules and their way of doing things when he didn't agree with them. He went to Oregon for a short time before going back to Pampa, Texas. But moving from place to place and living hand to mouth was proving hard for his wife and children. His marriage ended in divorce.
A year later he was back in New York and married for a second time in 1945. He and his second wife Marjorie Greenblatt had four children together. For a time he seemed settled in both his personal and work life. He wrote his first couple of novels during this time. A little later he even wrote children's songs. The songs were about friendship, family, helping and personal responsibility. But he also wrote ones that were pure entertainment.
By the late 1940's something would happen that would cause a dramatic change to his life. He developed a hereditary, incurable disease called Huntington's disease. It affects the brain this is also what his mother died of although it wasn't known at the time. It would take time before Guthrie was diagnosed with the disease.
Being a brain disease it affected all his abilities. His behaviour changed making him angry at times. He also headed back to California on his own.
In the mid 1950's and after divorcing his second wife he married for the third time Anneke Van Kirk they had a daughter together.
He eventually returned to New York where after several misdiagnoses he was discovered to have Huntington's disease. He died on the 3rd October 1967.
© Children's Web Magazine 2007