American Icons: This Land is Your Land

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This Land Is Your Land feature card

“This Land is Your Land” is the national anthem we actually know the words to. Americans sing it at school and summer camp; Bruce Springsteen and the late Pete Seeger sang it at President Obama’s first inauguration. Yet Woody Guthrie's song was once branded anti-American, even Communist.

Pete Seeger tells Kurt Andersen how Guthrie wrote it as a satiric response to "God Bless America," and soul singer Sharon Jones explains what the song means to her as a descendant of slaves. Leftist, environmentalist, nationalist, or patriotic — “This Land” allows everyone to sing it their way. We find out why some controversial lines about private property disappeared, and hear the song in Swedish, Hebrew, and Ojibwa.

(Originally aired October 1, 2010)

 

The original, handwritten lyrics to “This Land Is Your Land,” dated February 23, 1940

 

Woody Guthrie’s daughter, Nora, says Woody originally wrote the line “God blessed America for me” as a parody of the Irving Berlin song, “God Bless America.”  That lyric became the now-familiar “this

  

Video: Kurt Andersen visits Pete Seeger at his upstate New York home 

 

Sharon Jones

Bonus Track: Sharon Jones on "This Land Is Your Land" 
Soul singer Sharon Jones describes the special meaning the lyrics of "This Land Is Your Land" hold for her.

  

Bonus Track: "This Land Is Your Land," performed by Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings 
The group performs its own interpretation of Guthrie's song.

  

Swedish folk singer Mikael Wiehe

Bonus Track: A Powerful Translation 
Swedish folk singer Mikael Wiehe explains how translating and singing "This Land Is Your Land" inspired courage after he had received death threats from neo-Nazi groups.

 

Woody Guthrie’s Birthplace in Okfuskee County, Oklahoma in October 1979.  Guthrie was born into a middle-class family that fell on hard times during the Great Depression.
Pete Seeger leads the crowd in singing “This Land Is Your Land” at the celebration for the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

 

Music Playlist

  1. This Land is Your Land

    Artist: Woody Guthrie
    Album: Folkways: The Original Vision
    Label: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings
  2. Hard Traveling

    Artist: Woody Guthrie
    Album: Folkways: the Original Vision
    Label: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings
  3. God Bless America

    Artist: Kate Smith
    Album: God Bless America
    Label: Simitar
  4. This Land Is Your Land – Live

    Artist: Pete Seeger
    Album: The Essential Pete Seeger
    Label: Columbia
  5. This Land is Your Land

    Artist: Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings
    Album: Naturally
    Label: Daptone Records
  6. Det har er ditt land

    Artist: Mikael Wiehe
    Album: En Sang til Modet
    Label: EMI
  7. Song to Woody

    Artist: Bob Dylan
    Album: Bob Dylan
    Label: Columbia
  8. Zohiartzenu

    Artist: The Taverners