announcing Woody Guthrie performance at Towne Forum, Los
Angeles, 1941. Photo by Seema Weatherwax.
the time he arrived in California in 1937, Woody had experienced
intense scorn, hatred, and even physical antagonism from resident
Californians, who opposed the massive migration of the so-called “Okie” outsiders.
In Los Angeles
Woody landed a job on KFVD radio, singing “old-time”
traditional songs as well as some original songs. Together with
his singing partner Maxine Crissman, aka “Lefty Lou,”
Woody began to attract widespread public attention, particularly
from the thousands of relocated Okies gathered in migrant camps.
Living in makeshift cardboard and tin shelters, Woody’s
program provided entertainment and a nostalgic sense of the “home”
life they’d left behind; despite their desperate circumstances,
it was a respite from the harsh realities of migrant life.
radio airwaves also provided Woody a forum from which he developed
his talent for controversial social commentary and criticism.
On topics ranging from corrupt politicians, lawyers, and businessmen
to praising the compassionate and humanist principles of Jesus
Christ, the outlaw hero Pretty Boy Floyd, and the union organizers
that were fighting for the rights of migrant workers in California’s
agricultural communities, Woody proved himself a hard-hitting
advocate for truth, fairness, and justice.
identified with his audience and adapted to an “outsider”
status, along with them. This role would become an essential element
of his political and social positioning, gradually working its
way into his songwriting; “I Ain't Got No Home”, “Goin'
Down the Road Feelin' Bad”, “Talking Dust Bowl Blues”,
“Tom Joad” and “Hard Travelin'”; all reflect
his desire to give voice to those who had been disenfranchised.