Woody at Greystone Hospital, New Jersey, 1958.
Photo by Lou Gordon.
is just Woody. Thousands of people do not know he has any
other name. He is just a voice and a guitar. He sings the
songs of a people and I suspect that he is, in a way, that
people. Harsh voiced and nasal, his guitar hanging like a
tire iron on a rusty rim, there is nothing sweet about Woody,
and there is nothing sweet about the songs he sings. But there
is something more important for those who still listen. There
is the will of a people to endure and fight against oppression.
I think we call this the American spirit.”
late 1940’s and early 1950’s saw a rise in anti-Communist
sentiments. Leftist and progressive-minded Americans were subjected
to Red-scare tactics such as “blacklisting”. Many people,
particularly in the arts and entertainment fields, either lost their
jobs or were prevented from working in their chosen careers. The
Weavers, along with Woody, Pete Seeger and others from their circle,
were targeted for their activist stances on such issues as the right
to unionize, equal rights, and free speech.
headed south to Florida, where friend and fellow activist Stetson
Kennedy offered blacklisted artists living space on his property.
While in the South at Kennedy’s “Beluthahatchee”,
Woody worked on a third novel, Seeds of Man, and composed
songs inspired by a heightened awareness of racial and environmental
more and more unpredictable during a final series of road trips,
Woody eventually returned to New York with Anneke, where he was
hospitalized several times. Mistakenly diagnosed and treated for
everything from alcoholism to schizophrenia, his symptoms kept worsening
and his physical condition deteriorated. Picked up for “vagrancy”
in New Jersey in 1954, he was admitted into the nearby Greystone
Psychiatric Hospital, where he was finally diagnosed with Huntington’s
Chorea, the incurable degenerative nerve disorder now known as Huntington’s
Disease or HD.
these years, Marjorie Guthrie, family and friends continued to visit
and care for him. A new generation of musicians took an interest
in folk music bringing it into the mainstream as yet another folk
music revival. Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, The Greenbriar Boys, Phil Ochs,
and many other young folksingers visited Woody in the hospital,
bringing along their guitars and their songs to play for him, perhaps
even to thank him.
Guthrie died on October 3, 1967 while at Creedmoor State Hospital
in Queens, New York. His ashes were sprinkled into the waters off
of Coney Island's shore.
month later, on Thanksgiving 1967, Woody’s son Arlo Guthrie
released his first commercial recording of “Alice’s
Restaurant”, which was to become the iconic anti-war anthem
for the next generation.
his lifetime, Woody Guthrie wrote nearly 3,000 song lyrics, published
two novels, created artworks, authored numerous published and unpublished
manuscripts, poems, prose, and plays and hundreds of letters and
news article which are housed in the Woody Guthrie Archives in New
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