Friday, October 11, 2013

Did You Know About...."This Land is Your Land?"

Did you know that as an adult looking back to one's childhood and the songs that were sung puts a different slant on those songs?

Looking back as one who has studied music and currently teaches music I have found that time and maturity deepens that understanding.

This song comes to mind - perhaps you know it:
          Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land" written in 1940.

These are the verses I sang as a child and the ones I have had my students sing:

This Land Is Your Land
(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 red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and Me.

Verse 1
As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway:
I saw below me that golden valley:
This land was made for you and me.

Verse 2
I've roamed and rambled and I 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.
Verse 3
When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me.
Did you know about the following more radical verses?
Verse 4
As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing."
But on the other side it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.
Verse 5
In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?
Verse 6
Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.
Did you know Guthrie borrowed the tune from a couple of Carter Family songs? This is something new that I just stumbled upon.
(It is completely unintentional that I mention the Carter Family so soon after another post that harkens back to one of their songs.)
Check these out:
"When the World's on Fire" (1933)

"Little Darling, Pal of Mine" (1929)

Did you find yourself thinking the words to "This Land is Your Land" as you listened?
Guthrie would often borrow tunes. As he once put it, 'Well, if they already know the tune, they're halfway to knowing the song.'


Apparently the Carter Family reused tunes too.
Did you know that "This Land is Your Land" was written in response to a sickening dislike for Irving Berlin's song "God Bless America" (made popular by Kate Smith)?
At first it was titled "God Blessed America for Me."  In fact the words that also served as the last line of each verse were to remind the singer/listener of the title.
The final three verses were intended as a reality check for a country that embraced the rose-colored vision depicted by "God Bless America" despite being entrenched in the hardships of the Great Depression (the 1930s for younger readers).
It is a bit ironic that “God Bless America” and “This Land is Your Land” are often performed together in school programs and on albums.
Did you know?
Now you know a little more...


  1. Interesting read...I had some of my kids sing This Land is your Land in class just this week. -Janet

    1. I loved doing this song with my children's choir. I loved their energy and enthusiasm.