THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND…/this-land-is-your-land-1

“This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright #154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin’ it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don’t give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that’s all we wanted to do.”

-Woody Guthrie


“WHEN WOODY GUTHRIE arrived in New York City he was known as “the Oklahoma cowboy.”

Guthrie was embraced by its leftist folk music community.  For a time, he slept on a couch in Will Geer‘s apartment. Guthrie made his first recordings—several hours of conversation and songs recorded by the folklorist Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress—as well as an album, Dust Bowl Ballads, for Victor Records in Camden, New Jersey.

Guthrie was tired of the radio overplaying Irving Berlin‘s “God Bless America.” He thought the lyrics were unrealistic and complacent. Partly inspired by his experiences during a cross-country trip and his distaste for “God Bless America,” he wrote his most famous song, “This Land Is Your Land“, in February 1940; it was subtitled: “God Blessed America for Me.” The melody is adapted from an old gospel song, “Oh My Loving Brother.” This was best known as “When The World’s On Fire,” sung by the country group The Carter Family. Guthrie signed the manuscript with the comment, “All you can write is what you see, Woody G., N.Y., N.Y., N.Y.”

He protested against class inequality in the fourth and sixth verses:

As I went walking, I saw a sign there,

And on the sign there, It said “no trespassing.” 

[In another version, the sign reads “Private Property”]

But on the other side, it didn’t say nothing!

That side was made for you and me.

In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;

By the relief office, I’d seen my people.

As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,

Is this land made for you and me?

These verses were often omitted in subsequent recordings, sometimes by Guthrie. Although the song was written in 1940, it was four years before he recorded it for Moses Asch in April 1944. Sheet music was produced and given to schools by Howie Richmond sometime later.


Guthrie’s early life was no an easy road. His older sister, Clara, died in a coal oil fire from a heating stove when he was seven.  His mother, Nora Belle, was institutionalized after setting a fire that severely burned Guthrie’s father.

In 1920, oil was discovered in Okemah, which led to a boom for a few years. Then the oil dried up, and the people of Okemah were, Guthrie said, “busted, disgusted, and not to be trusted.” His father quit the town for Texas, leaving 14-year-old Guthrie to play harmonica for sandwiches and coins on the streets of Okemah. His older brother, Roy, became the struggling family’s main source of support.

Woody’s father ended up in Pampa, Texas, and sent for his son.

When he was 19, Guthrie met and married his first wife, Mary Jennings, with whom he had three children, GwendolynSue, and Bill.[

With the advent of the Dust Bowl era, Guthrie left Texas, leaving Mary behind, and joined the thousands of Okies who were migrating to California looking for work. Many of his songs are concerned with the conditions faced by these working-class people.

in 1931, formed the Corn Cob Trio, and enjoyed his first taste of public success before succumbing to the realities of the Great Depression. He hitchhiked and freight-trained his way across several states, soaking up the stories of “dustbowl refugees” and refining his songwriting skills. In Los Angeles, he joined up with a woman named “Lefty Lou” and became popular with the relocated Okies living in cardboard and tin shelters.

He wrote his most famous song, “This Land is Your Land,” in New York City while living in a building for transients called Hanover House, at the corner of 43rd Street and Sixth Avenue, one block east of where the ball now falls on New Year’s Eve in Times Square.

He’d seen enough during his travels to know that for many Americans, there was nothing blessed about their lives. He wrote the song in 1940 but didn’t record it until 1944. It was published in 1945 in a mimeographed booklet with 10 other songs and some of Guthrie’s drawings. The booklet cost 25 cents

Sources:, The Writer’s Almanac


(words and music by Woody Guthrie)


This land is your land, this land is my land

From California, to the New York Island

From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters

This land was made for you and me

As I was walking a ribbon of highway

I saw above me an endless skyway

I saw below me a golden valley

This land was made for you and me

Repeat Chorus

I’ve roamed and rambled and I’ve followed my footsteps

To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts

And all around me a voice was sounding

This land was made for you and me

Repeat Chorus

The sun comes shining as I was strolling

The wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling

The fog was lifting a voice come chanting

This land was made for you and me

Repeat Chorus

As I was walkin’  –  I saw a sign there

And that sign said – no tress passin’

But on the other side  …. it didn’t say nothin!

Now that side was made for you and me!

Repeat Chorus

In the squares of the city – In the shadow of the steeple

Near the relief office – I see my people

And some are grumblin’ and some are wonderin’

If this land’s still made for you and me.

Repeat Chorus

©1956 (renewed 1984), 1958 (renewed 1986) and 1970 TRO-Ludlow Music, Inc. (BMI)


2 thoughts on “THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND

  1. Pingback: THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND | Shareable Snippets

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