A version of this story appears in Saturday’s The Oklahoman.
Woody Guthrie Center brings folk singer back to Oklahoma
Located in Tulsa’s Brady Arts District, new home of the Woody Guthrie Archives opens its doors to the public for the first time Saturday afternoon.
TULSA — Inside the slickly remodeled red-brick warehouse, Woody Guthrie’s lifetime achievement Grammy shares space with one of his humble red-and-black plaid shirts, while the shiny touch screens and suspended headphones of the listening bar are set up across the room from the battered 1940 fiddle the musician carved with the slogan “This machine killed 10 fascists.”
Situated the burgeoning Brady Arts District, the sleek new Woody Guthrie Center may not look like a house, but it’s where Nora Guthrie’s heart now lives.
“This is my home,” said the daughter of Woody Guthrie Friday afternoon at a media preview for the center. “The thing
I like about it is the potential. It can go as far as you guys want to take it.”
The center is the new home of the Woody Guthrie Archives, which were previously housed in Nora Guthrie’s Mount Kisko, N.Y., home. In 2011, the Tulsa-based George Kaiser Family Foundation bought the comprehensive archives and began construction on the 12,000-square-foot center.
“Working with the archives and reading this kind of material was really the joy of my life. That’s when I really got to play with my dad,” said Nora Guthrie, who was just 17 years old when her famous father died of Huntington’s disease, a hereditary neurodegenerative condition.
The center will open to the public for the first time at 1 p.m. Saturday. The grand opening will include free admission Saturday and Sunday, plus a film screening, book signing and free concerts across the street at the Guthrie Green urban park.
Nora Guthrie will speak about the new recordings contemporary musicians like Billy Bragg, Wilco and The Klezmatics have created using her father’s previously unpublished lyrics. Although she plays piano, she hasn’t needed to tickle the ivories to keep her father’s legacy thriving.
“You don’t have to play an instrument to love Woody’s philosophy. You don’t even have to love folk music to love Woody’s philosophy. It’s included there if you want it, but if you don’t, there’s a road to Woody’s heart that’s open and available to anyone,” she told about 20 journalists gathered in the center’s theater.
“My father’s favorite line was ‘I’m out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work.’ And in a time now when we’re so distracted by celebrity-ism … I’m just hoping this center will expand and really connect to all walks of life.”
Born July 14, 1912, in Okemah, Woody Guthrie is best remembered as a folk singer-songwriter, but he also was an artist, writer and activist. He died Oct. 3, 1967, in New York, where his daughter was born and bred.
But Nora Guthrie has long believed the archives belonged in Oklahoma. And Stanton Doyle, a senior program officer with the Kaiser Family Foundation, thinks the revived neighborhood of Cain’s Ballroom and the Brady Theater makes a fine spot.
“It’s really the perfect space,” Doyle said. “There’s a huge list of famous people from Oklahoma, but in terms of like really inspirational people from Oklahoma, Will Rogers and Woody Guthrie are the top two.”
Woody Guthrie Center Grand Opening
When: 12:30 to 6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Woody Guthrie Center, 102 E Brady Street, and Guthrie Green, 111 E Brady Street.
12:30 p.m.: Ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Woody Guthrie Center.
1 to 6 p.m.: Center officially opens to the public. Free admission.
1 to 6 p.m.: Free concert at Guthrie Green. Lineup includes Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Jimmy LaFave, Red Dirt Rangers and Desi & Cody.
10 a.m. to 6 p.m.: Free admission to Woody Guthrie Center.
1 to 5 p.m.: Special events at the center:
1 to 2 p.m.: “Been Here and Gone: A Discussion with Photographer John Cohen” — Cohen will talk about his photography of Woody Guthrie and the American folk scene of the 1950s and 60s; moderated by Grammy Museum Executive Director Bob Santelli.
2:30 to 2:45 p.m.: Film screening: “Woody Guthrie Legacy” — Short documentary features Corey Harris, Ani DiFranco, U2, Bob Dylan and others discussing their connection to Woody.
2:45 to 3:45 p.m.: “I Ain’t Dead Yet: New Music from the Woody Guthrie Archives with Nora Guthrie” — Presentation focuses on new recordings being created by contemporary musicians using Woody’s previously unpublished lyrics. The one-hour multimedia program features musical excerpts and examples of lyrics used by musicians Billy Bragg, Wilco, The Klezmatics and many others.
4 to 5 p.m.: Book signing with Grammy Museum Executive Director Bob Santelli — He will sign copies of his book, “This Land Is Your Land: Woody Guthrie and the Journey of An American Folksong.”
2 to 6 p.m.: Free concert at Guthrie Green. Lineup includes Ripple Green, Samantha Crain, Ramsay Midwood and JD McPherson.