Streams

Woody Guthrie and WNYC

History Notes: Volume 2, Issue 21

Friday, June 24, 2011 - 12:09 AM

Woody Guthrie left California and arrived in New York City early in 1940. By summer he was making his first appearance on WNYC, on Henrietta Yurchenco and Paul Kresh's second Adventures in Music program on July 13. The show's theme was folk music of the mountains and the plains, featuring Jim Garland, Sarah Ann Ogan and Guthrie, who was introduced as "a modern troubadour who sings as he pleases and makes up his own tunes as he goes." Guthrie performed "Hobo Blues," "Dusty Old Dust," and "Tom Joad." 

Woody Guthrie appeared on WNYC many times between 1940 and the early 1950s. In the above recording from December 12, 1940 he was a guest on Leadbelly's weekly show, Folksongs of America, also produced by the late Henrietta Yurchenco. In this show, Guthrie sings "Jesse James," "John Hardy" and "Tom Joad." Joad of course is a lead character in John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath," played by Henry Fonda in the feature film directed by John Ford and released nine months earlier. "I didn't read the book but then I seen the picture three times," Guthrie said. Leadbelly, (a.k.a. Huddie Ledbetter) sings "Good Night Irene," "You Can't Lose Me, Cholly," "Frankie and Johnny" and "The Boll Weevil Song."

Guthrie actually proposed a daily 30-minute program to Station Director Morris Novik on March 8, 1945. His letter, two legal-size typed pages single-spaced, described the importance of WNYC's American Music Festival, on which Guthrie had just performed the previous month. The modest folk singer wrote, "My appearance on your Music Festival series was a little thing because there are eight or ten million folks out there that can sing as good if not better than me..."

In a poetic stream of consciousness ramble he went on at length about the difficulties of getting folk music on the larger commercial stations, writing that he was often misunderstood, misinterpreted, discriminated against and censored. But it was WNYC, the folksinger wrote, "One little station out of a whole big mess of them," that was bringing hope to the "long hairs.” In short, Woody said, "If there is the littlest faintest spark of hope for the nervous salvation of our other New York stations then I see a whole big blaze of hope for WNYC." Before closing his pitch Woody added, "I have been told by commercial agents that a regular program over your facilities would let all the sap drip out of my prestige. I told them that it was a pretty considerably increased feeling of prestige that I always got out of standing in front of your microphones." 

Novik replied to Woody, "To say thanks for your recent letter is a great understatement. I appreciate your spirit, and I am in complete agreement with your analysis of the commercial radio stations. Your suggestion for a series is accepted 'hands down.' " Novik indicated, however, there was no money to pay for the show. Woody replied in a second letter that he would do the show for free and that he would call. There were notes indicating calls were to be made. Unfortunately, beyond that, it appears no regular show was programmed. However, Guthrie did perform on other WNYC American Music Festival concerts and on Oscar Brand's "Folksong Festival" in the years to come.

You can visit the Woody Guthrie Archives online, and you'll be hearing a whole lot more about Woody Guthrie as July 14, 2012, the centennial of his birth, gets closer.

Thanks to the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives of CUNY for access to the Guthrie/Novik correspondence.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Broadcast on WNYC Today in:

1925: Senator Royal S. Copland, H.S. Summing and Dr. W.H. Park speak at a conference of the American Institute of Homeopathy from the Hotel Roosevelt. Note: Senator Copland was a homeopathic physician and a politician. He was a U.S. senator representing New York from 1923 to 1938.

1952: Dimitri Mitropoulos conducts the Stadium Symphony Orchestra at a Lewisohn Stadium concert. The performance includes the "Overture to Tannhauser" by Wagner, "Toccata for Piano and Orchestra" by Respighi and the Suite from "Der Rosenkavalier" by Richard Strauss. Violinist Mischa Elman is interviewed, and Marian Anderson sings Negro spirituals, including "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child."

1984: Jenny Dixon's Artists in the City hosts Timothy Rubb to discuss the Manhattan Skyline Exhibition.

2002: Beth Fertig reports on how the debate over welfare reform moves to the senate as lawmakers consider changes to the 1996 welfare law. President Bush wants to make welfare recipients work more hours; but some New Yorkers, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, worry that it's going to be too hard to do in New York City. Washington's proposals seem to conflict with Bloomberg's own plans for the next phase of welfare reform.

Tags:

More in:

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.

Sponsored

About NYPR Archives & Preservation

Mission Statement: The New York Public Radio Archives supports the mission and goals of WNYC and WQXR by honoring the broadcast heritage of the radio stations and preserving their organizational and programming legacy for future generations of public radio listeners. The Archives will collect, organize, document, showcase and make available for production all original work generated by and produced in association with WNYC and WQXR Radio.

The NYPR Archives serves the stations staff and producers by providing them with digital copies of our broadcast material spanning WNYC and WQXR's respective 90 and 77 year histories.  We also catalog, preserve and digitize, provide reference services, store, and acquire WNYC and WQXR broadcast material (originals and copies) missing from the collection. This repatriation effort has been aided by dozens of former WNYC and WQXR staff as well as a number of key institutions. Additionally, our collecting over the last ten years goes beyond sound and includes photos, publicity materials, program guides, microphones, coffee mugs, buttons and other ephemera. We've left no stone unturned in our pursuit of these artifacts. The History Notes is a showcase for many of these non-broadcast items in our collection. 

In fact, if you’ve got that vintage WNYC or WQXR knick-knack, gee-gaw, or maybe a photo of someone in front of our mic, an old program guide or vintage piece of remote equipment and would like to donate it to us, or provide a copy of the item to us, write to Andy Lanset at alanset@nypublicradio.org.   

The Archives and Preservation series was created to bring together the leading NYPR Archives related, created, or sourced content material at WNYC.org.

Feeds

Supported by