An award that honors those who embody the spirit of legendary folk singer/songwriter Woody Guthrie will be presented to American folk singer Pete Seeger during an inaugural event Saturday, Feb. 22 at the Peter Norton Symphony Space in New York City.
The Woody Guthrie Prize will be given annually to the artist who best exemplifies the spirit and life’s work of Woody Guthrie by speaking for the less fortunate through music, film, literature, dance or other art forms and serving as a positive force for social change in America.
“We hope that the Woody Guthrie Prize will shed an inspirational light on those who have decided to use their talents for the common good rather than for personal gain,” said Nora Guthrie, daughter of Woody Guthrie. “With his dry wit, Woody always preferred to call himself a ‘common-ist.’ His quote from John Steinbeck’s character, Tom Joad, says it pretty simply: ‘Wherever children are hungry and cry, wherever people ain’t free, wherever men are fightin’ for their rights, that’s where I’m gonna be.’ There are so many people who are living this credo, and they’re the ones we will be honoring.”
The event will include the Woody Guthrie Prize presentation, a one-on-one Q&A with Seeger and GRAMMY Museum Executive Director Bob Santelli, a musical performance by Seeger and Arlo Guthrie and an additional musical performance by Tony Trischka. The prize will be presented by the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, Okla., in conjunction with The GRAMMY Museum.
Proceeds from the event will support the Woody Guthrie Center, a 12,000-square-foot center that features state-of-the-art, interactive exhibits on Guthrie’s life, art and creative legacy. The center is home to Guthrie’s comprehensive archives, including the original, handwritten version of Guthrie’s landmark anthem, “This Land is Your Land,” which is available for viewing at the center.
“We are honored to present the first Woody Guthrie Prize to Pete Seeger, whose incredible career pushes the boundaries of how music can make us think, feel and act,” said Woody Guthrie Center Executive Director Deana McCloud. “We can think of no better recipient than a colleague, friend and confidant of Woody himself. Pete and Woody are arguably two of the most prolific folk musicians of their lifetimes.”
The Woody Guthrie Archives were brought to Tulsa by George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF), which purchased them in 2011 from Woody Guthrie Publications in New York. The foundation is underwriting the Woody Guthrie Prize.
“Our foundation is dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty by creating opportunities for children born into tough circumstances to realize their full potential,” said Ken Levit, executive director of GKFF. “Woody Guthrie spoke up for people who had little voice, and as one of Oklahoma’s most prolific and significant artists, he served as a source of inspiration for hundreds of musicians, artists and everyday people. The Woody Guthrie Prize will continue to honor those who keep his legacy alive today, and we are proud to support it.”
For more than 70 years as a performer, Seeger has embodied the ideals of folk music – communication, entertainment, social comment, historical continuity and inclusiveness. The songs he has written, and those he has discovered and shared, have helped preserve America’s cultural heritage, imprinting adults and children with the sounds, traditions and values of our global past and present. A fearless warrior for social justice and the environment, Seeger’s political activism – from the Civil Rights movement and anti-McCarthyism to resistance to fascism and the wars in Vietnam and the Middle East – has become the template for subsequent generations of musicians and ordinary citizens with something to say about the world.
While his frequent disagreements with government policies have perhaps cost him a greater and more superficial popularity through media and performance blacklisting during the ‘50s and ’60s, 94-year-old Seeger’s fearless contributions have nonetheless earned him a GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award, a Harvard Arts Medal, the Kennedy Center Award, the Presidential Medal of the Arts, and even membership in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Woodrow “Woody” Wilson Guthrie was born in Okemah, Okla. in 1912 and wrote 3,000 songs in his lifetime. Guthrie’s iconic “This Land Is Your Land” has become the unofficial American national anthem. Guthrie also recorded many children’s songs and tunes devoted to telling the story of the disenfranchised and working class of his era. He was also an artist, writer, radio show host and activist during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.