This Land is Your Land

Woody Guthrie, 1944

What is the message of this song? What "pictures" does it paint? What are the most vivid images from this song? "Sparkling sands of diamond deserts," "ribbon of highway," etc.

What does it mean to be "patriotic"? What makes a good patriotic song? Would you consider this song a patriotic song? Why or why not?

What was happening politically in the late 1940s and early 1950s when this song first came out? What was the "Red Scare"? What happened in the entertainment industry as a result? Who were some of the blacklisted musicians? What activities were folksingers like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and the Weavers involved in that made them suspects? Why were politicians so afraid of musicians? How might the "McCarthy Era" have inspired Guthrie to write this song?

Guthrie wrote "This Land is Your Land" to answer Irving Berlin's song "God Bless America." What do you think bothered him about "God Bless America"? How is his song different?

"This Land is Your Land" performed by Woody Guthrie on The Asch Recordings, Smithsonian Folkways, Washington D.C.: Smithsonian/Folkways, © 1999.

Available on Itunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

 

For more information on Woody Guthrie, visit his official website.

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

http://www.woodyguthrie.org/Lyrics/This_Land.htm

This Land is your land album
"This Land is Your Land" album cover.

One of Guthrie's best known works, this song was originally called "God Blessed America" and was conceived as a Marxist response to Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" (VAT Unit 7) The tune was taken from the Carter Family's "Little Darlin', Pal of Mine," which in turn had come from an old Baptist hymn, "Oh My Lovin' Brother." Guthrie notated the song in 1940 but didn't record it until 1944, during one of several spontaneous marathon recording sessions. At this time Guthrie changed the title to "This Land is Your Land" and altered the line at the end of each verse from "God blessed America for me" to "This land was made for you and me."

Some of the original verses that were later removed:

  Was a big high wall there that tried to stop me
A sign was painted said: Private Property
But on the back side it didn't say nothing—
God blessed America for me.

One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple
By the relief office I saw my people—
As they stood hungry, I stood there wondering if
God blessed America for me.

Ironically this song, originally conceived as a Marxist work, is sometimes mentioned as a possible replacement for "Star Spangled Banner." In addition, it has been used as an advertising jingle by United Airlines and Ford Motor Co. and was the theme song for George McGovern's 1972 presidential campaign.

Guthrie borrowed tunes for many songs and encouraged others to add to his songs. Write new verses expressing the diverse American landscape. How would you rewrite this song to give it an environmental instead of a political message?

Many commercials have used "This Land is Your Land" in ways Guthrie never intended. Make a slide, video or multimedia presentation to express an ideal you believe the song supports.