Woody Guthrie archives gearing up for centennial


(For full effect, play the above track while reading.)

Folk musician Woody Guthrie would have turned 99 years old today. The posthumous discovery of Guthrie’s Jewish songs by his daughter, Nora — director of the elder Guthrie’s archives — eventually resulted in a 2007 Grammy Award-winning album by the Klezmatics.


As explained in this 2003 article in the Forward:

Guthrie never actually converted to Judaism, though he seemed to regard it with the same open-ended inclusiveness he applied to all religions, seeing in its history the same ideals of universal brotherhood that had attracted him to the labor and socialist movements. “He was discovering Jewish culture and writing about it as he went along,” said Nora Guthrie. “These songs aren’t religiously Jewish — they’re culturally Jewish. They reflect Woody’s world and his perception of what the Jewish story is.

According to the Woody Guthrie Archives — saddling up for a centennial celebration in 2012 — the singer-songwriter’s fascination with the Jewish people can be traced to his Coney Island neighbor in the 1940s: his mother in-law.

Woody Guthrie, dust bowl balladeer, and Aliza Greenblatt, his Yiddish poet mother-in-law came together when Martha Graham dancer Marjorie Mazia (Greenblatt’s daughter) happened to meet Guthrie when one of Graham’s choreographers set a dance to his lyrics.

That Martha Graham gets credit for the "shidduch" is yet another example of the famed choreographer’s contributions to Jewish culture. For more on Aliza Greenblatt, check out her biography in the Jewish Women’s Archive.

On another Guthrie-related note, happy belated birthday to Arlo Guthrie (b. July 10, 1947), a music legend in his own right who took after his father’s passion for inter-religious exploration by founding the ecumenical Guthrie Center. Here’s Arlo singing "Tzena Tzena" in concert:


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