Woodrow Wilson Guthrie, known almost universally as "Woody", was a folk singer and raconteur who wrote some of America's best loved songs. He is best known for This Land is Your Land, a protest song written in response to Irving Berlin's God Bless America. Born in Okemah, Oklahoma July 14 1912, the year his namesake was elected President. At a young age he left home to adopt an itinerant lifestyle, travelling across the United States as the Jazz Age turned into the Great Depression. The poverty he saw on these early trips affected him greatly, and a large proportion of his songs are concerned with the inequities faced by America's working men and women. A lifelong socialist and trade unionist, he also contributed articles to the Daily Worker.
In 1935 he achieved fame in California as a radio performer of both traditional folk music and his protest songs. His interest in the working class was also shown in the specially commisioned songs he wrote at this time for the Bonneville Power Authority in Washington State, the best known of which is Grand Coulee Dam, and his "Ballad of Tom Joad" based on John Houston's film of The Grapes of Wrath.
With the outbreak of World War II Guthrie, a devout anti-fascist -- he often played with the slogan "This Machine Kills Fascists" written on his guitar -- joined the Merchant Marine, where he served with fellow folk singer Cisco Houston. He also wrote the first volume of his autobiography "Bound for Glory".
By the 1950s his output had fallen off, and he was diagnosed as suffering from the degenerative nervous disorder Huntingtons disease, and hospitalised, where he remained until his death on October 3, 1967, by which time his work had been discovered by a new audience, introduced to him through Bob Dylan who described Guthrie as "my last hero".
His son Arlo Guthrie achieved some success as a singer as well.