American Icons: This Land Is Your Land


Friday, October 01, 2010


This Land Is Your Land feature card

This is the national anthem we actually know the words to.

All of America sings it at school and summer camp; Bruce Springsteen sang it at President Obama’s inauguration. Yet Woody Guthrie’s song was once called anti-American, even Communist.  Pete Seeger explains how Guthrie wrote it as a sarcastic response to “God Bless America"; soul singer Sharon Jones tells us 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.


"This Land Is Your Land" was produced by Studio 360's Pejk Malinovski.


Bonus Tracks: Sharon Jones on "This Land Is Your Land"
Soul singer Sharon Jones describes the special meaning the lyrics of "This Land Is Your Land" hold for her.


"This Land Is Your Land," performed by Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings
The group performs its own interpretation of Guthrie's song.



Photo: Miro AnterBonus Track: A Powerful Translation
Swedish folk singer Mikael Wiehe explains how translating and singing "This Land Is Your Land" inspired courage after he had received death threats from neo-Nazi groups.



Video: Studio 360 Visits Pete Seeger

Credit: Courtesy of The Woody Guthrie Archives. Used by permission.

Woody Guthrie wrote “This Land Is Your Land” in 1940. The song’s success wasn’t certain in its early history; it was once called “communist” and “anti-American,” but it eventually became a sort of unofficial national anthem.

Credit: Courtesy of The Woody Guthrie Archives. Used by permission.

Woody Guthrie, at left with guitar, and Pete Seeger, with banjo. Guthrie and Seeger met at a midnight benefit concert in New York when Guthrie was 29 and Seeger was 22.

Credit: Donna Lou Morgan, U.S. Navy

Pete Seeger leads the crowd in singing “This Land Is Your Land” at the celebration for the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

Credit: Walter Smalling, Courtesy of The Library of Congress

Woody Guthrie’s Birthplace in Okfuskee County, Oklahoma in October 1979. Guthrie was born into a middle-class family that fell on hard times during the Great Depression.

Credit: Courtesy of The Woody Guthrie Archives. Used by permission.

The original, handwritten lyrics to “This Land Is Your Land,” dated February 23, 1940.

Credit: Courtesy of The Woody Guthrie Archives. Used by permission.

Woody Guthrie’s daughter, Nora, says Woody originally wrote the line “God blessed America for me” as a parody of the Irving Berlin song, “God Bless America.” That lyric became the now-familiar “this land is made for you and me.”

Credit: Courtesy of The Woody Guthrie Archives. Used by permission.

Woody Guthrie with his wife, Mary Guthrie, and children at the piano, in 1940. In his 1943 auobiography, Bound for Glory, they're left unmentioned.

Credit: Photograph by Lester Balog, Courtesy of The Woody Guthrie Archives. Used by permission.

Woody Guthrie, in 1943, with “This Machine Kills Fascists” written on his guitar.

Credit: John Carrico

Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings reinterpreted “This Land Is Your Land” in a 2005 recording. Jones says she never paid much attention to the song when she first heard it, but found new meaning when she considered the lyrics.


Pejk Malinovski

Comments [17]

Loralee Cooley from Cordell OK

In the early to mid '90s, we lived in Pampa Texas, which is the town where Woody Guthrie began his musical journey, as we liked to say. I was president of the "Pampa's Tribute to Woody Guthrie" 501.c.3, which holds an annual event in the fall, with such artists as Pete Seeger (in 2003) and the Vanaver Caravan (in 2004), dealing with the role of Woody Guthrie and his music. Woody never graduated from Pampa High School (much to the chagrin of local officials), but he did do his own "independent study" at the public library, reading such non-high-schoolish subjects as Comparative Religions, Psychology, World Mythology and History, and other light subjects. That study surely shaped him for what he did with his life.

Oct. 31 2011 01:07 PM
Studio 360

Hi, ealistello! All of our Icons episodes are available - and will continue to be available - free of charge on iTunes. You can also download any of the American Icons shows by clicking on the "download" button below the audio player on this website.

Thanks for listening to the show!

Nov. 08 2010 11:30 AM
ealistello from Grand Rapids, MI

I am behind on my podcasts, and SO wanted to download the version of 'This Land' you offered. Guess I have to get to iTunes, pay my .99 and have at it! Great episode.

Nov. 07 2010 12:47 PM
Eileen Flanagan from Philadelphia

I loved hearing the versions in different languages. It reminded me of when I was a Peace Corps trainee in Bostwana and I translated "This Land is Your Land" into the local language, Setswana. My African Setswana teacher was amused and gently commented that the words sounded different than their original intention coming from a white person in Southern Africa, where whites had stolen so much land. It was a good lesson in being aware of context.

Oct. 06 2010 08:53 AM
Kathleen Ashelford from Redondo Beach

I was six years old when I first heard this song -- and it's been my favorite patriotic song ever since.

Oct. 04 2010 12:37 AM
Art Lurvey from Tucson, AZ

Great program. Really liked the last 1/3 which illustrates how "This Land..." has been reinterpreted by so many people all over the world. In so many ways, this song speaks to all peoples. Reminded me very much of the Bill Moyers' PBS video "Amazing Grace."

Oct. 03 2010 03:46 PM
Chloe Rice from brooklyn

So glad I turned my radio on right in time to catch this program, this morning!

Can't WAIT for the I Love Lucy episode!

Oct. 03 2010 12:30 PM
Bill Wolfe from Nashville, TN

Yes, we do own this land. Regardless of how much money we have or how old we are -- we really do own 83 million acres of spectacular land, the national parks. Your interviews today show how great we feel about our joint ownership of this property.

Oct. 03 2010 12:24 PM
blueobserver from El Bario

look again, ed h! I'm listening to all 4m32s of soulful awesomeness i just downloaded...
Glad to hear that such diverse people have taken this gem and made it their own! Living in Manhattan, I must take Woody's lyrics to mean the streets and parks. I gots no land!

Oct. 03 2010 11:50 AM
ed h

The program indicated that Sharon Jones' version of "This Land Is Your Land" could be downloaded this week, but it is just a 30 second excerpt. Slightly better than nothing at best, and not exactly truth in advertising.

Oct. 03 2010 10:53 AM
lil tomato birdy from Central Jersey, USA

nice lullabye--the songs, the sentiments, the cheer for your guests' courage and sharing.

Oct. 03 2010 02:58 AM
Appreciative from Brooklyn NY

Very well done. If the program had only told the story of how the song was written and then popularized by Pete Seeger, it would have been enough. But to then go on and explore how the song has been embraced and adapted by non-Americans was brilliant.

Oct. 02 2010 05:51 PM
roscoewavo from middle colo

It's nice to hear that Black people have prejudices too. Don't we all. It's nice to hear a song that transcends prejudice.

Oct. 02 2010 05:09 PM
Elizabeth from Reston, VA

So few things seem to bring us together in 2010. In this year of foreclosures and short sales, so many fellow citizens are re-thinking what "ownership" means, and what owning very many or very few objects means. Nature is the antidote -- being in nature almost makes the word "mine" disappear. And that open world-view can bring us together.

Oct. 02 2010 02:42 PM
John Weber from NJ

I wish the entrance to every National Park had a big sign that said, "This Land is Your Land"

Oct. 01 2010 11:19 AM
Kerr Lockhart from Teaneck, NJ

I am a 54-year-old white American who also learned this song in school (and wishes it were the National Anthem). Thank you SO MUCH for introducing me to Sharon Jones and her superb rendition (I missed it in UP IN THE AIR). It is moving and powerful in and of itself, but it means so much to know that all kinds of Americans can take this song and re-interpret and share it with us, so we can truly become an "us."

I am going to continue to investigate this fine artist.

And thank you for the "American Icons" series--it may be the best work your program does.

Oct. 01 2010 11:04 AM
Janet Zaleon from Manhattan

Here's what I'd love to know about "This Land is Your Land." Was the song used on the film "Up in the Air" because it is a song about the beauty of the USA, as we were all taught in school? Or was it used in an ironic sense, because George Clooney's character is laying people off, while the song has several political verses about the common people, which most people don't know?
I loved the Malcolm X show!

Sep. 29 2010 11:14 PM

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