When he was born, he was the third child of Nora Belle Sherman Guthrie. Nora, 24, soon started singing to her newborn son and as she had with her other children – 8-year-old Clara and 6-year-old Lee Roy – filled his childhood with the old-time country ballads that her mother had sung to her.
When he was born, his father, Charley Edward Guthrie, 33, bookkeeper, boxer, land speculator and politician, named him after the Democratic Party’s recently-nominated candidate for President of the United States. Though Nora always called her son Woodrow, Charley and everyone else soon called him “Woody.”
When he was born, Woody’s hometown, Okemah, Oklahoma (established in 1902) was a sun-baked and windswept little village that sat on top of a rocky hill, surrounded by miles of dusty farmland where oil would be discovered in 1920.
When he was born, Woody had yet to experience the death (in 1919) of his beloved sister, Clara, from the severe burns inflicted by an accidental fire; the effects on the family of his father’s bankruptcy in 1923 and the dissolution of the family when his mother’s slow and mysterious deterioration caused her to finally be institutionalized in the state mental hospital in 1927.
When he was born, Woody was years away from his 1929 move to Pampa, Texas where with the help of his Uncle Jack Guthrie and all those old songs that his mother sang to him, he learned to play the guitar. Two years later, also in Pampa, Woody would form a musical group with Matt Jennings and Cluster Baker that they called “The Corn Cob Trio.”
When he was born, Woody was over twenty years away from his marriage to Mary Jennings (1933), the birth of their three children – Gwendolyn Gail in 1935, Sue in 1937 and Will Rogers in 1938 – and the personal compilation of his first book of songs that he wrote himself entitled Alonzo M. Zilch’s Own Collection of Original Songs and Ballads in 1935. Woody was also yet to experience the Great Dust Storm that struck Pampa on April 14, 1935 or to make his way to California and become co-host of a pair of successful, live, music-and-talk radio shows on KFVD in Los Angeles from July, 1937 – June 1938.
When he was born, Woody had not yet hitchhiked from Texas to New York City. In that winter of 1940, in New York City, Woody would meet and perform with Huddie Ledbetter, Alan Lomax and Pete Seeger; he would record for the Library of Congress and for Victor Records and he would write a “protest song” initially called “God Blessed America.”
Two years later, again in New York City, Woody would meet Marjorie Greenblatt Mazia, a dancer. Woody and Marjorie would marry in 1945 and raise a family of four: Cathy Ann, born in 1943; Arlo Davy, 1947; Joady Ben, 1948; and Nora Lee, 1950.
When he was born, Woody Guthrie was many years and many miles away from writing hundreds of songs, making dozens of records, seeing the publication of his autobiography Bound For Glory in 1943 and suffering the slow onslaught of the debilitating and eventually deadly effects of the Huntington’s chorea that he inherited from his mother.
When Woodrow Wilson Guthrie was born on July 14, 1912, could Nora and Charley have had any idea that 100 years in the future countless numbers of people would know their son’s name? Could they have imagined that little Woody would create songs, make records, write a book and live a life of 55 years that would be celebrated in Okemah, Oklahoma and all around the world in the year of 2012?
Long live the music of Woody Guthrie. Here’s to another 100 years!