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Thousands descend on Oklahoma town to honor Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday


Following is from the July 15, 2012, edition of The Dallas Morning News. SMU English Professor Bruce E. Levy provided expertise for this story.

July 16, 2012

By Michael Granberry
News Arts and Features

OKEMAH, Okla. — They came from Brighton and Brooklyn and everywhere in between. They descended on this remote Oklahoma town by the thousands over the weekend to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Woody Guthrie.

Centennial celebrations sprang up in Los Angeles, New York, Germany and Italy, all to commemorate the wiry Dust Bowl troubadour, who before he became an icon was a baby born in this working-class town named for a Kickapoo Indian chief.

The annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival celebrated its 15th year in Okemah with a free musical feast featuring Arlo Guthrie, Woody’s 65-year-old son; Austin roots rocker Jimmy LaFave; British artist Billy Bragg; and folk-singing great Judy Collins, who sang the finale Saturday night. Collins, 73, called the Guthrie classic “This Land Is Your Land” “one of the most beautiful songs anyone has ever written.” . . .

Bruce Levy, who teaches a course at Southern Methodist University titled “The Cultural Politics of Rock ’n’ Roll,” said the corps of musicians who carry the Guthrie flag — they include fellow Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne and John Mellencamp — are in many ways spiritual descendants of Guthrie’s.

In biblical terms, Guthrie begat Dylan, who begat Springsteen, Mellencamp and Browne, who are sharing Woody celebrations in 2012. “The entire social protest folk music that emerged in the late 1950s and early 1960s, of which Dylan was such a part, owed it all to Woody,” Levy said.

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