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Woody Guthrie archives coming to Tulsa

Special to The City Sentinel

Oklahoma soon will be home to legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie’s comprehensive archives, which were recently purchased by the Tulsa-based George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF), said foundation executive director Kenn Levit.

The foundation purchased the archives from Woody Guthrie Publications in New York.

“The Guthrie family has inspired us through its brilliant, loving and creative stewardship of these remarkable materials, said executive director Ken Levit. “We plan to make the Woody Guthrie Archive available to scholars, artists and the general public so the story of this extraordinary Oklahoman can be told for generations to come.

The collection is bound for Tulsa’s Brady Center in early 2012, Levit said.

“Woody Guthrie is the greatest American folk singer/songwriter of all time,” said Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS). “His art is deeply connected to Oklahoma’s people and its history. It reflects the Oklahoma experience, from mobility and immigration to diversity and the longing for a sense of community.

“Whether it was the Indian forced onto a reservation, a farmer looking for new land or an oilman driven to find one more gusher, Woody gave voice to their hopes and dreams.”

In addition to original musical recordings, the archive includes nearly 3,000 song lyrics, many rare books by and about Guthrie, more than 700 pieces of artwork, letters and postcards, as well as manuscripts and personal journals. A key piece of the collection is Woody Guthrie’s original handwritten copy of “This Land is Your Land.” Also included are more than 500 photographs, handwritten songbooks, Guthrie’s annotated record collection and personal papers detailing family matters, his World War II military service and musical career.

Additional archived items include a research paper detailing Guthrie’s mental and physical deterioration from Huntington’s disease, a hereditary neurodegenerative condition that ultimately caused his death at age 55.

“Bringing this collection to Tulsa further validates the city as our nation’s crossroads of creativity and enhances the community’s intricate blend of art deco, jazz and Native American influences,” Blackburn said. “This collection will draw a steady stream of scholars, artists and visitors to Tulsa. I can think of no other collection, either in terms of scope or importance, that would compare.”

This is the second time GKFF has been involved in preserving the Guthrie archives. In 2010, GKFF provided a grant to the Woody Guthrie Foundation and Archives to allow reel-to-reel audio tapes and a collection of postcards to be digitized, making them accessible for the first time to researchers, historians and musicians.

“Like the work of Mark Twain and Will Rogers, Woody’s art will be timeless,” Blackburn said. “The Woody Guthrie Archives in Tulsa will be more than a collection of one man’s art. It will be a tool for education, inspiration for artists and a window through which every man and woman anywhere in the world can search for a better understanding of the human experience.”

Woodrow “Woody” Wilson Guthrie was born in Okemah, Okla. in 1912. He is best known as a folk singer whose songs include “This Land Is Your Land,” “Talking Dust Bowl Blues” and “Hard Travelin’.” Guthrie also recorded many children’s songs and tunes devoted to telling the story of the disenfranchised and working class of his era. He was also an artist, writer, radio show host and activist during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. For additional information on the archives, visit

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