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Woody Guthrie exhibition goes virtual

Following the exhibition Woody Guthrie: People Are the Song at the Morgan Library & Museum, a 3D virtual version is now available online. The exhibition, created in collaboration with music historian Bob Santelli, tells the story of the great American troubadour and writer in his own words through a selection of musical instruments, handwritten lyrics, manuscripts, photographs, books, art, and audiovisual media, assembled from the preeminent holdings of the Woody Guthrie Archive and several private collections.

There is no real trick of creating words to set to music once you realise that the word is the music and the people are the song.

Woody Guthrie

Exhibition overview curated by the Morgan Library & Museum

The author of more than three thousand folk songs, Woody Guthrie (1912–1967) is one of the most influential songwriters and recording artists in American history. He is an icon of the Depression era and wrote the world’s most famous protest song This Land Is Your Land. But he was not only a songwriter, and his subject matter extended well beyond labour politics. The full corpus of his creativity—including lyrics, poetry, artwork, and largely unpublished prose writings, encompassed topics such as the environment, love, sex, spirituality, family, and racial justice. Guthrie created a personal philosophy that has impacted generations of Americans and inspired musician-activists from Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen to Ani DiFranco and Chuck D. As Bob Dylan noted of Guthrie, “You could listen to his songs and actually learn how to live.” The exhibition captures Guthrie’s power as a raconteur for the people. He had an uncanny ability to distill a news story or the account of someone’s life into a topical ballad or protest song.

The exhibition traces Guthrie’s life and career through his artistic response to several interrelated themes: place, politics, family, love, and spirituality. Running through these is an emphasis on Guthrie’s connection to certain people in his life including historical figures of his era and the anonymous workers, soldiers, and immigrants whose stories appear in so much of his music. Songs like My Thirty Thousand, Deportee, The Blinding of Isaac Woodard, and Union Maid express Guthrie’s outrage at the racial and labor injustices felt by his fellow Americans, while lyrics to Ingrid Bergman and Joe DiMaggio speak to his interest in prominent figures of the 1940s and the compelling stories of their lives.