Woody Guthrie Archives Comin’ Home to Tulsa

Woody at 100 Centennial Celebrations Abound in Oklahoma

Photographer unknown; circa, 1945. Courtesy of Woody Guthrie Archives

As reported in both the Tulsa World and New York Times on December 28, the extensive archives of world-renowned Oklahoma-born folk music icon Woody Guthrie have been purchased by the George Kaiser Family Foundation and will be housed in the Woody Guthrie Center that will be part of the Mathews Warehouse arts complex that is under construction in downtown Tulsa. According to the Tulsa World story, the archives are hoped to be open to the public by the end of 2012, which is the Centennial celebration of Guthrie’s birth in Okemah, Oklahoma on July 14, 1912. The New York Times story states that the archives will not be transferred until sometime in 2013. The archives have been kept for two decades by Guthrie’s daughter Nora, most recently in her Mount Kisco, New York home and non-profit research center, located about 40 miles north of New York City.

(UPDATE: Nora Guthrie has posted a beautifully eloquent letter talking about the decision to transfer the archives and her feelings about the wonderful creative energy that is pulsing through Tulsa right now…)

I had caught wind that Woody’s archives were possibly coming to Tulsa some months ago but had no details about when it would happen. The confirmation that the George Kaiser Family Foundation is bringing these important historical archives to Tulsa is huge news for Oklahoma and adds another exciting element to the revitalization of downtown Tulsa. It’s especially gratifying that the archives are making their way to Oklahoma to coincide with Woody’s 100th birthday celebration events that are taking place in 2012.

One of the biggest events of the worldwide Woody Guthrie Centennial celebrations will be the Midwest Gala Tribute Concert that will take place here in Tulsa at the Brady Theater on March 10, 2012. The first of four such gala concerts to be staged across the nation, the performers for this show have yet to be named. The other gala concerts will take place in Los Angeles (April 14,) Brooklyn, New York (September 22) and Washington, D.C. (October 14.) These concerts are being organized by the GRAMMY Museum  and the Guthrie Family/Woody Guthrie Publications Inc. and are sure to be exceptional evenings of music making and celebrations of Woody’s songs. An ever-growing list of centennial events can be found at the official Centennial website Woody100. Events are being organized in places such as rural Salinas, California (the birthplace of Grapes of Wrath author and Nobel Prize winner John Steinbeck,) the South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas, the Folk Alliance International Conference  in Memphis, Tennessee and as far away as Germany and Austria.

Charles Banks Wilson, Woody Guthrie oil on canvas, 2002. Courtesy of Gilcrease Museum website.

Another major local event that appears to be unique to Tulsa is the traveling exhibition “Woody at One Hundred: The Woody Guthrie Centennial Celebration 1912 − 2012” which will be on display at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa from February 5 to April 29, 2012. This is the only published listing for the showing of this exhibit. A description of the exhibit on the Woody100 website states: “This exhibit consists of a collection of Woody Guthrie’s lyrics, diaries, notebooks, correspondence, photographs, artworks, ephemera and includes original items, featuring Woody’s original handwritten lyric “This Land Is Your Land”, providing a broad overview of Woody’s creative legacy dated from 1932-1955. The exhibit will also include ephemera and materials related to Woody Guthrie’s musical legacy and heirs.” Sounds like this special exhibit will give folks a nice sneak peek at what treasures the archives contains.

The University of Tulsa adds an educational component to the Centennial affairs when it hosts a symposium entitled “Different Shades of Red” on March 19-21, 2012. According to a TU posting, the symposium “will feature three panels discussing the roots of Guthrie’s political sensibilities, his musical influences, and how his ideas and music continue to resonate through the decades. Jim Hightower is confirmed as the keynote speaker.” The event is chaired by Dr. Brian Hosmer, H.G. Barnard Associate Professor of Western History at TU. The University of Tulsa’s McFarlin Library has archived some Woody Guthrie manuscripts and pencil sketches in its Department of Special Collections.

Also taking place in Tulsa is the educational performance program “This Land Is Your Land,”  presented by musicians David Lutken, Helen Russell, Darcie Deaville, and Andy Tierstein. The program’s website describes it as “a theatrical presentation that focuses on Woody Guthrie and American cultural history of the 1920s through the 1940s, from the state of Oklahoma, where Woody spent his boyhood, through the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, F.D.R.’s new Deal and WPA, to World War II. The show follows Woody from California to New York and beyond, capturing the personal narrative of a man who spoke for many who had no public voice.” The program is slated to be presented at Tulsa area schools during March 5 − 8.

Scheduled to also take place at Tulsa schools from March 5 − 8 is a multi-media presentation entitled “Life / Legacy of Woody Guthrie” presented by Tiffany Colannino, archivist for the Woody Guthrie Archives. While no details about this program are available at this time, other programs that Ms. Colannino presents include the use of archival photographs, historic audio, and rare film footage to explore Woody’s life, music and art.

Interested folks can sign up for the Woody100.com mailing list to stay connected with Centennial happenings: Go to the Woody 100 mailing list.

As one of the organizers of the All Soul Acoustic Coffeehouse concert series here in Tulsa, I’ve had the privilege of hearing first hand what the Woody Guthrie archives mean for musicians. Slaid Cleaves has performed “This Morning I Am Born Again” from his 2000 album Broke Down, a song for which he composed the music after being allowed to use Woody’s lyrics that had never been recorded. Another one of our performers, Eliza Gilkyson, has played “Peace Call” from her 2004 album Land of Milk and Honey, a song that Woody never recorded in the studio. She came across “Peace Call” in an out of print Woody Guthrie songbook. The most well-known instance of a musician using Woody’s lyrics  from the archives occurred when Nora Guthrie invited English folk-rocker Billy Bragg to write music for a selection of lyrics that were turned into the albums Mermaid Avenue  and Mermaid Avenue Vol. II, on which he was accompanied by the acclaimed rock band Wilco. In this same vein, Nora Guthrie invited singer-songwriter Jonatha Brooke to write songs for unused lyrics by Woody which she recorded for her 2008 album The Works. As the kick off event of the Centennial, Brooke will perform a concert at the Lincoln Center in NYC on January 18. The concert is called The Works: Jonatha Brooke Celebrates Woody Guthrie at 100 and will include special guests such as Dar Williams joining Brooke. The most recent recording of Woody’s lyrics appears on the album Note of Hope released in September 2011 by bassist Rob Wasserman and friends, including Jackson Browne, Ani DiFranco, Kurt Elling, Michael Franti, Van Dyke Parks, Madeleine Peyroux, Lou Reed, Pete Seeger, Studs Terkel, Tony Trischka, and Chris Whitley.

Music lovers certainly have a pasture of plenty ahead of them this year as the world celebrates the life and music of a great songster. Stay tuned for further developments…


Official Woody Guthrie Centennial website

Song of the Day: Hear a different Woody Guthrie song every day…

Woody Guthrie Foundation and Archives blog 

Woody Guthrie Archives: Go to this site to see lists of the voluminous contents of the archives that will be housed in Tulsa, including artwork, books by and about Woody, correspondence, lyrics (almost 3000,) manuscripts, audio material (studio recordings, family recordings, Woody’s personal record collection, interviews, etc.,) notebooks, periodicals, personal papers, photographs, scrapbooks and special collections. Please note that this site only gives a list of these materials and not any digitized form of the actual documents.

Biography of Woody Guthrie: written by Ed Cray in conjunction with the PBS series American Masters presentation of the film “Woody Guthrie: Ain’t Got No Home” 

Tulsa World newspaper story “Woody Guthrie Archives to be moved to Tulsa” by Wayne Greene

New York Times newspaper story “Bound for Local Glory at Last” by Patricia Cohen

Woody at One Hundred: The Woody Guthrie Centennial Celebration 1912 − 2012:  Traveling exhibit at the Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, Oklahoma. February 5 to April 29, 2012

This Land Is Your Land: theatrical presentation in Tulsa area schools, March 5 − 8, 2012



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