American Icons: This Land is Your Land


Friday, March 16, 2012

This is the national anthem we actually know the words to. Americans sing it at school and summer camp; Bruce Springsteen sang it at President Obama's inauguration. Yet Woody Guthrie's song was once branded anti-American, even Communist.

Pete Seeger tells Kurt Andersen how Guthrie wrote it as a sarcastic response to "God Bless America," and soul singer Sharon Jones explains what the song means to her as a descendant of slaves. Leftist, environmentalist, nationalist, or patriotic — "This Land" allows everyone to sing it their way. We find out why some controversial lines about private property disappeared, and hear the song in Swedish, Hebrew, and Ojibwa.

→ More “Land:” Kurt visits Pete Seeger at home and Sharon Jones describes the special meaning the lyrics hold for her — all on our American Icons feature page.

(Originally aired October 1, 2010)

    Music Playlist
  1. This Land is Your Land
    Artist: Woody Guthrie
    Album: This Land is Your Land: The Asch Recordings, Vol. 1
    Label: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings
    Purchase: Amazon
  2. This Land is Your Land
    Artist: Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings
    Album: Naturally
    Label: Daptone Records
    Purchase: Amazon
  3. Det har er ditt land
    Artist: Mikael Wiehe
    Album: En Sang til Modet
    Label: EMI
  4. Song to Woody
    Artist: Bob Dylan
    Album: Bob Dylan
    Label: Columbia
    Purchase: Amazon
  5. Zohiartzenu
    Artist: The Taverners
    Album: Unknown
    Label: Unknown


Jorge Arevalo, Ed Cray, Nora Guthrie, Sharon Jones, Pete Seeger, Ed Shannon, Shay Tochner and Mikael Wiehe

Produced by:

Pejk Malinovski


Emily Botein

Comments [8]

Jenny from Studio 360

Hi Jean --

Sorry for the delay -- and sorry to hear you couldn't find the video. If you follow the link at the end of the sentence ("feature page"), it'll take you to a page with lots of bonus material, including the video at the bottom. But here's a link directly to that video:

Hope you enjoy.

Mar. 19 2012 11:54 AM
Susannah from Brooklyn

It's great to hear a piece on this great song. Thanks. But I'm not sure that Woody didn't say who "you and me" is ... note the verse that often gets left out (but that Arlo Guthrie sings):

In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I'd seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?

Also there's that bit about the private property sign. Let's sing the *whole* song.

Mar. 18 2012 09:49 PM
Deborah Van Kleef from Cleveland, Ohio

I enjoyed this thoughtful piece about a song and a songwriter whose significance in American and world culture continues to evolve.

When I hear clips from the performance by Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen et al celebrating President Obama's inauguration, I am moved by the voice of Tao Rodriguez, Pete's grandson, which cuts through and rings out above the rest. It disappoints me that his presence there is seldom mentioned. He stepped in as a teenager to support his grandpa when Pete's physical voice began to fail. He has grown into a musician of great power and charisma, who merits wider recognition.

Mar. 18 2012 06:13 PM
Coreene from Boston

Today's stories were fantastic--360 is a wonderful program. Always look forward to it. How do we obtain the music list for today's program? Especially the music following Anne Lamott's interview. Thank you. Coreene

Mar. 18 2012 03:02 PM

A nice piece. Fascinating insights into Woody and "This Land". Pete Seeger is in the shadows, but is a giant who will be celebrated...after he's left us.

Mar. 18 2012 01:45 PM

You guys touch my heart!

Mar. 18 2012 11:41 AM

Kurt tried to challenge the Israeli musician about his lyrics, but didn't follow-up well. Twenty percent of Israeli CITIZENS are not Jewish. Most all speak Hebrew, and will hear his song, as they do the state's national anthem, as choosing to exclude them. To say that is not political is faux naive.

Mar. 17 2012 02:30 PM

makin' me craaaazy...trying to find of visit to Pete Seeger's home, keep getting bounced around to pages, but no video! what gives?

Mar. 17 2012 01:47 PM

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