Woody Guthrie — Image: People’s World

Today is the 79th anniversary of “This Land is Your Land”.

On 23 Feb 1940 Woody Guthrie wrote the lyrics to “This Land Is Your Land” in his room at the Hanover House Hotel in New York City. At the time he hitchhiked his way from Los Angeles to New York City. Along the way, “God Bless America” was playing in jukeboxes across the country, which is where he got the idea to parody that Irving Berlin’s song.

When Guthrie started writing the song, the last line in the chorus was “God blessed America for me,” which Guthrie eventually changed into “This land was made for you and me.” It evolved into a protest anthem as generations of folk singers performed the song, but it is often misinterpreted as a patriotic song. The lyrics express Guthrie’s belief that the working class should have the same rights as the rich.

Anna Canoni is Guthrie’s granddaughter and a director at the Woody Guthrie Foundation. Anna said: “It’s the most famous, but there’s a reason why it’s the most famous. I think that often people will just look at the words on the surface and not really look into what he’s talking about. But when Woody wrote, he wrote in double entendres, and sometimes triple. And there’s enough to keep you thinking. I think his music was really to keep you thinking and start up a conversation. It wasn’t just something nice to listen to, it’s something that needs to be said to begin a discussion. And I would define that as great songwriting.”

Guthrie didn’t record the song until 1944, and he changed the lyrics over the years, performing it many different ways. It was not released until 1949 when a small company called Folkways Recording Company issued the disc. This version became the one picked up by other folk singers and often sung in schools and summer camps, and is by far the best known rendition of the song.

“This Land is Your Land” is often cited as the alternative of America’s national anthem.

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