Reading My Name is New York: Ramblin’ Around Woody Guthrie’s Town by Nora Guthrie and the Woody Guthrie Archives, I was surprised to discover that I often walk past where Woody Guthrie wrote “This Land is Your Land.” The picture above shows the corner of 43rd Street and 6th Avenue in Manhattan where he wrote the song, although the building where he lived is no longer there.
On February 22, 1940, Guthrie moved into Hanover House at 101 W. 43rd Street when he was 27 years old. The boarding house where he stayed for about a month sat above a pawn shop. The day after he moved in, Guthrie began writing down the words to the song that would eventually become “This Land is Your Land.”
Even then, the New York City street corner was busy, and the “New York Island” must have brought inspiration. But Guthrie also had been developing the song since he had hitchhiked to New York across the country from Los Angeles.
In a previous post, Chimesfreedom explained the background of the song and how it was originally called “God Blessed America” before Guthrie edited the song. It would be about a decade from Guthrie’s time in the cheap boarding house until “This Land is Your Land” became popular. It’s popularity was boosted by a 1950 songbook used by school teachers and after Pete Seeger began performing it every where he went.
In the video below, Seeger performs the song with others in front of the Lincoln Memorial at the “We Are One” Presidential Inaugural Concert on January 19, 2009.
Guthrie wrote other songs at Hanover House, including another one of my favorites, “Jesus Christ.” Using the music from the folk ballad “Jesse James,” Guthrie imagined Christ as a rebel who spoke on behalf of the poor. And, looking out from the boarding house, he included a line about where he wrote the song as he imagined how Jesus Christ would be treated were he to return today.
This song was written in New York City
Of rich man, preacher, and slave
If Jesus was to preach what He preached in Galilee,
They would lay poor Jesus in His grave.
In the video below, you may hear U2’s version of Guthrie’s “Jesus Christ.”
Speaking of Woody Guthrie in New York, a recent three-CD audio book set compiles stories about Guthrie in New York along with songs Guthrie wrote about New York City, My Name Is New York (2014). The title track from the set, “My Name Is New York,” was never released in Guthrie’s lifetime.
Guthrie’s daughter Nora Guthrie recently explained that after she found the tape of the song “My Name Is New York” and heard the lyrics, she knew she had to release it. Below, you may hear the song.
Regarding the corner where Guthrie wrote “This Land Is Your Land,” Bob Egan has some photos of the above street corner around the time that Guthrie lived there on PopSpots.
Guthrie only spent a short time living on this corner in Manhattan before he would go on to live in other places in the city. But the corner of 43rd Street and 6th Avenue will always be able to claim a connection to some great American songs, including what may be the country’s best.
Photo by Chimesfreedom. Leave your two cents in the comments.
(Some related Chimesfreedom posts.)