(If You Ain't Got the) Do, Re, Mi

Woody Guthrie, 1937

What is this song about? Who is moving from where to where? Why? So many Dust Bowl farmers moved to California that Los Angeles posted police at the state borders to turn away penniless refugees. Why did they view California as the "sugar bowl"?

Why did California require migrants to have money? Otherwise they would end up on relief or in refugee camps. Why do you think the American Civil Liberties Union protested this policy?

What couldn't do "nobody harm"? Buying a home or farm or taking a vacation. Why? It means you have money to spend in California.

What does the last verse tell you about who was making the trip? Were they leaving permanently?

What New Deal programs tried to ease the problems of farmers? What farming practices contributed to the losses in the Dust Bowl drought?

What other migrations does this situation remind you of? Immigration quotas, refugees seeking asylum, illegal immigrants. What obligation do we have, if any, to accept people suffering great hardships into our country or state? How can we help poor newcomers without overwhelming our system?

"(If You Ain't Got the) Do, Re, Mi" performed by Woody Guthrie on This Land is Your Land. The Asch Recordings Vol. 1, Washington DC: Smithsonian Folkways [SF40100], © 1997. Available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

 

For biographical information on Woody Guthrie, please see the recommended recording notes for "Hobo's Lullaby" and "Roll On Columbia" (both in this unit).

Rights have not been secured to reprint the words for this song. Please consult this online source:

http://woodyguthrie.org/Lyrics/Do_Re_Mi.htm

During the years of the "dust bowl" drought of the 1930s, many midwesterners moved to California to find a better life, a movement chronicled in John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath (which takes its title from the lyrics for “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”).

Fleeing a dust storm. Farmer Arthur Coble and sons walking in the face of a dust storm, Cimarron County, Oklahoma. Arthur Rothstein, photographer, April, 1936. (Library of Congress)
Fleeing a dust storm. Farmer Arthur Coble and sons walking in the face of a dust storm, Cimarron County, Oklahoma. Arthur Rothstein, photographer, April, 1936. (Library of Congress)

One-quarter of the population, 2.5 million people, moved out of the Plains states; 200,000 of them moved to California. Corporate farming of fruit, nuts, and vegetables was very different than the family-owned wheat farms they were used to, so many went on relief or became migrant farm workers. Taking care of these newcomers, who often camped on the roadsides, taxed state relief systems. Finally, the Los Angeles police barricaded the borders, keeping out "undesirables" who didn't have money.

Woody Guthrie experienced this barricade when he made his own move in that direction. Guthrie's experience in California included work at a small radio station where he would improvise songs. (See biographical details under "Roll On Columbia").

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck