Woody Guthrie 1912 - 1967


Woody Guthrie was born on July 14th, 1912 in Okemah, Oklahoma.

May 1919 – Older sister Clara dies in fire.

1927 – Mother sent to Central State Hospital for the Insane in Norman.

1929 – Joined father and extended family in Pampa, Texas; Uncle Jeff Guthrie taught Woody to play guitar and fiddle.

pampa-bandThe Pampa, Texas Jr. Chamber of Commerce Band, 1936. Woody Guthrie is on the far left, with the bass.


1930 – Death of mother.

1933 – Married Mary Jennings, Pampa, Texas (later divorced).

1935 – Prepared typed songbook of original songs, "Alonzo M. Zilch’s Own Collection of Original Songs and Ballads."

1937 – Moved to Los Angeles; began performing on radio station KFVD with his cousin, Jack Guthrie.

Summer 1938 – Traveled to investigate the living and working conditions of the migrant workers on assignment for The Light newspaper; wrote “Dust Bowl Refugees.”

1939 – Began writing “Woody Sez” column in People's World. Met actor Will Geer and began traveling with him to migrant camps to perform.

January-February 1940 – Moved to New York City; wrote "This Land Is Your Land" in reaction to Irving Berlin’s "God Bless America."


March 1940 – Performed at "Grapes of Wrath Evening," organized by Will Geer to benefit the John Steinbeck Committee for Agricultural Workers; met Alan and Elizabeth Lomax, director Nicholas Ray and folk singers Aunt Molly Jackson, Leadbelly and Pete Seeger.

Alan Lomax plays his guitar with his wife looking on in New York, 1939.

Recorded four hours of songs and stories for the Library of Congress's Archive of American Folk Song in the Department of the Interior recording lab.

Began to write autobiographical novel, "Bound for Glory."

Spring-Summer 1940 – Began to appear on CBS radio programs; Recorded "Dust Bowl Ballads" for Victor Records in Camden, N.J. (released in July).

Wrote the song "Union Maids" during a trip home to Oklahoma to visit family members and union organizers.

May 1941 – Commissioned by the U.S. Department of the Interior to write songs promoting the building of the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River in Washington state; composed 26 songs in 30 days.

Summer 1941 – Joined Almanac Singers in New York for cross-country summer tour; recorded "Deep Sea Chanteys and Whaling Ballads" and "Sod-buster Ballads" with the Almanacs for General Records.

Fall 1941 – Moved to Greenwich Village, living and performing with the Almanac Singers.

December 1941 – In the wake of Pearl Harbor, began writing pro-war songs with the Almanac Singers.

Spring 1942 – Narrated and played music for "Folksay" modern dance, choreographed by Sophis Maslow and featuring Marjorie Mazia as a dancer.

Signed contract with E.P. Dutton publishing house for book.

Began dating Marjorie Mazia.

March 1943 – "Bound for Glory" published.

June 1943 – Joined the Merchant Marine; shipped out on first of three voyages with Cisco Houston and Jimmy Longhi.

November 1943 – Returned to New York; moved to 3520 Mermaid Ave., Coney Island.

April 1944 – Met Moses (Moe) Asch and began to record in his studio in New York: the first recording of "This Land Is Your Land" and well over 100 other songs.

March 1945 – Released album of recordings made for Moe Asch through collaboration with Herbert Harris's Stinson Trading Co.

May 1945 – Inducted into the Army.

November 1945 – Married Marjorie in New York while on furlough (divorced July 1953).

December 1945 – Discharged from the Army.

1946 – Began writing children's songs and recording them for Moe Asch's label; named to the board of directors of the newly formed People's Songs collective.

February 1947 – Death of his and Marjorie's daughter Cathy Ann in a fire.


1950 – The Weavers (Ronnie Gilbert, Lee Hays, Fred Hellerman and Pete Seeger) recorded Guthrie's "So Long, It's Been Good to Know You."

Music publisher Howie Richmond offered to publish and promote more of Guthrie's songs.

September 1952 – Diagnosed with Huntington's Chorea.

October 1952 – Moved to Topanga Canyon, Calif.; met Anneke Van Kirk Marshall.

December 1953 – Married Anneke Van Kirk (divorced summer 1956); returned to New York.

April 1954 – Pete Seeger began touring college campuses, introducing Guthrie's songs to new audiences.

September 1954 – Checked into Brooklyn State Hospital.

1956 – Launch of Guthrie Children's Trust Fund: Pete Seeger, Harold Leventhal and Lou Gordon served as trustees overseeing Woody's estate, with Arlo, Joady and Nora (Woody's and Marjorie's children) as beneficiaries.

March 1956 – Benefit concert for Guthrie Children's Trust Fund held at Pythian Hall in New York.

May 1956 – Voluntarily checked out of Brooklyn State Hospital; involuntarily checked into Greystone Park in Morris Plains, N.J.

1958 – Kingston Trio scored popular success with folk ballad "Tom Dooley," signaling the beginning of an urban folk revival.

1959 – Bob and Sidsel Gleason began hosting Guthrie in their home in East Orange, N.J., every Sunday; folk singers gathered to play and pay homage.


January 1961 – Visited by Bob Dylan.

Spring 1961 – Transferred to Brooklyn State Hospital.

1964 – Release of 1940 Library of Congress recordings as three-record set on Elektra.

1965 – Publication of “Born to Win,” a collection of writings.

April 1966 – Commended by U.S. Department of the Interior for Columbia River songs, presented with Conservation Servic Award, and honored by having substation of Bonneville Power Authority named for him.

1967 – Committee to Combat Huntington’s Disease formed by Marjorie Guthrie.

Oct. 3, 1967 – Died, Brooklyn State Hospital, New York at the age of 55.

1970-Present Day

1971 – Posthumously inducted into Songwriters’ Hall of Fame.

City of Okemah refused to declare July 14 as Woody Guthrie Day, citing his one-time affiliation with the Communist party; Marjorie and Arlo visited Okemah anyway to encourage construction of a monument to Woody and to donate books and records to the Okfuskee County Library.

1972 – The city of Okemah painted the words “Home of Woody Guthrie” on one of its water towers.

1977 – Posthumously inducted into Nashville Songwriter’s Foundation, Inc.

1980 – Guthrie’s boyhood home collapses in Okemah and vandalized by souvenir-hunters.

1988 – Posthumously inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

1996 – Posthumously awarded Lifetime Achievement Award by North American Folk Music and Dance Alliance.

1997 – Posthumously inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame.

July 1998 – First annual Woody Guthrie Festival in Okemah featured Billy Bragg, Tom Paxton, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey, the Kingston Trio, Arlo Guthrie and others; the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp in his honor.

2004 – Portrait of Guthrie by Charles Banks Wilson is hung in the Oklahoma Capitol building.

2006 – Posthumously inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.

Dec. 27, 2011 – Tulsa’s George Kaiser Family Foundation announced it has purchased the Woody Guthrie Archives and will open a downtown space to display the collection in time for the centennial of Woody Guthrie’s birth.

April 27th, 2013 - Woody Guthrie Center opens to the public with performances at the Guthrie Green from Sara Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Jimmy LaFave, Red Dirt Rangers, and Desi &mpt; Cody.

SOURCES: Library of Congress, Tulsa World archives, booklet “My Favorite Things About My Brother,” by Mary Jo Guthrie Edgmon.