Woody Guthrie a singer, songwriter, musician and activist was considered one of the best folk-blues writers in the world. He wrote hundreds of songs and ballads that highlight the political struggles of those he encountered. He grew up in segregated Okemah, Oklahoma in the early 1900’s. His father was a politician and businessman. Woody accompanied him as he traveled giving political speeches. This was when he became aware of the plight of the downtrodden, met African American people and learned how to sing, play instruments and combine blues and folk music. Here are Woody Guthrie’s 5 best Blues-Folk songs with political slants.
1. Old Man Trump’s Colorline
When Woody Guthrie moved his family into Donald and Fred Trump’s Beach Haven housing complex in New York he did not know of the racist practices of the Trumps. He was unaware of the Trump’s policy of not allowing African Americans to live in their complex. When Guthrie found out he moved out of the complex and wrote the song, Old Man Trump's Colorline, as well as other songs showing his displeasure of the racist practices of the Trumps. This Blues song is relevant today as Donald Trump often boasts of his lucrative real estate business in his campaign for President of the United States.
2. Deportee also known as Plane Wreck at Los Gatos
Woody Guthrie took up the plight of all marginalized people and made the world aware of their troubles through his music. This song protests the January 28, 1948 plane crash of a United States Immigration Service Plane returning illegal immigrants from California to Mexico. On board were 32 people, all were killed, but only the names of 4 people who were members of the flight crew were listed in the papers. The other 28 people were listed as just deportees. The Guthrie song is relevant today because the issue of immigration and returning Mexican immigrants who are presently in the United States back to Mexico and building a wall to keep them out. . This is a major issue in the Presidential race.
3. Don’t Kill My Baby and My Son or Old Dark Town or Old Rock Jail
This Blues song tells the true story of the murder of Laura an African American woman and her children at the hands of a lynch mob headed by the town sheriff. The three were dragged out of the local jail and hung over the Canadian Bridge in 1911. A picture was taken, made into a post card and sold as a souvenir. A young Woody Guthrie was profoundly affected by the lynching and seeing his father taking part in the murder of the woman and children. This is reminiscent of seeing African Americans today shot and killed in the streets or hung in their cells while in the hands of the authorities.
4. I Ain’t Got No Home in this World Anymore
Woody Guthrie was a rambler. He traveled all over Oklahoma, Texas, California, New York, and overseas. As he rambled he got an opportunity to see how things were in the world. He saw how bad it was for some people and how good it was for others. So he decided to write a song about the unfairness in life. The song tells about not being able to find regular work and for some, the more you work the less you seem to have. The song also reveals that there is unfair police harassment.
5. This Land is Your Land
Woody Guthrie wrote this song in response to the song “God Bless America.” It is said that he was irritated because it did not appear that God blessed America for all people. Several verses of the song, This Land is Your Land, were left out of the recordings because it might have been dangerous to voice certain thoughts and feelings during the McCarthey era.
The Blues was developed by African Americans to express their sadness to life and the conditions by which they are surrounded. These songs describe the tragedies, sadness, poverty, discrimination and hardships with which some have to live. However, when a political slant is applied to the Blues some comfort is added in letting the entire world know that maybe you are not alone in your sadness and that there just might be hope..
Click on the links above to hear the song.