Woodrow Wilson Guthrie was born on July 14, 1912 in the small town of Okemah, Oklahoma. Over the decades of his life, "Woody" as he would become popularly known, came to author an enormous catalog of folk songs that have withstood the test of time before falling ill and dying of Huntington's disease on October 3, 1967. As this year has marked a centennial celebration of the man, there has been a renewed interest in his music.
"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 will listen," wrote author John Steinbeck of him at the time. "There is the will of a people to endure and fight against oppression."
For those who can hum a few verses of Guthrie's famed "This Land is Your Land" but want to know more about the balladeer, Fullerton Public Library will be hosting an event on Sunday featuring Ross Moore who will be performing the legend's songs live as well as recounting his life and times.
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The San Diego-based musician, educator and storyteller has developed different Woody Guthrie programs and will be presenting Songs and Stories of America's Greatest Folksinger when he returns to Orange County this weekend.
"I'll be touching on some different periods, definitely some Dust Bowl ballads and songs about the Okies," Moore says, offering a preview. "A lot of people don't know at all about his children's songs, so I'll definitely be talking a little bit about that. I'm just trying to do a nice overview of his life."
As a series of celebratory centennial events around the country made a west coast stop earlier this year in Los Angeles, a city where Guthrie spent an important period of his life, this writer wondered if the singer had any known encounters with Orange County during that time, perhaps finding himself in the mix with citrus workers in the fields. A number of scholars could return no such anecdotes, unfortunately, but his spirit will be alive and well in Fullerton anyway.
"When you have the opportunity to get up in front of a group of people and actually perform Guthrie's music, I have to tell you something magical happens and it's all about the power of the songs," Moore says. "Even though they seem to be such simple little folk songs, they are amazingly powerful."
The resonance, as the musician notes, lies in how relevant the social and political messages in the music remain today. The timeliness of the tunes would have Guthrie singing the very same verses he composed decades ago as the situation many people in the United States find themselves in now are all too similar to those that inspired his songs back then.
"He'd be singing "I Ain't Got No Home" about people being forced out of their homes," Moore adds. "He'd be singing "Deportee" about the plight of immigrants and so many of his songs like "Pastures of Plenty" that talk about the migrant workers that put sparkling wine on our table, yet we want to act like we need to drive them away."
Ross Moore presents Songs and Stories of America's Greatest Folk Singer at the Fullerton Public Library, 353 W. Commonwealth Ave, Fullerton. www.fullertonlibrary.org; (714) 738-6334. Sun. 2 p.m. Free. All Ages.