[1971:] 'This Land Is Your Land', with its deceptively simple melody, was put together by Woody Guthrie in the 1940's. When he first got the idea for it, 'God Bless America' was getting a big play on the radio. [...] In the next 9 years he changed the last line [from 'God blessed America for me'], added a few verses. In the late 1940's he recorded it [...] in the 3-verse version [...] now widely known. Around 1949 the Jewish Young People's Folksingers Chorus directed by Robert DeCormier in New York started singing it. They spread it. [...] By the mid-1950's a few school songbooks dared include it. By 1971 they all did. But only a chorus and three verses.
The other three verses are not so generally known. When Arlo Guthrie was a child his father visited home from the hospital and had Arlo write down the verses which didn't get in the school songbooks. I and others have started singing them. We feel that there is a danger of this song being misinterpreted without these new/old verses being added. The song could even be co-opted by the very selfish interests Woody was fighting all his life. Washington Bigwheel Clark Clifford in March 1950 addressed the wealthy businessmen at Chicago's Executive Club:
"[...] The people have to feel that their small share of this country is as much theirs as it is yours and mine [...]." With only half of Woody's verses, This Land Is Your Land falls right into Mr. Clifford's trap. In other words, "Let people go ahead and sing the song. Meanwhile you and I know who really controls the country."
The song has now been used in movies and TV, and has been used to accompany television commercials. Today every American has heard the song at some time or another, even though it has never been at the "top of the charts". A few far rightists look upon the song as part of "the International Communist Plot," but the daughter of Ronald Reagan liked to include the song in her repertoire as a "folk singer" in the 1970's. [...]
One young fellow wrote me that he was starting a campaign to make the song the national anthem. I wrote him, "Please stop! Can't you see U.S. Marines marching into another little country playing this song?" In any case, I for one would be sorry to see it made an official anthem. A song is not a speech. Like any work of art, it has many meanings for many people. It reflects new meanings as life shines new lights upon it. To make This Land Is Your Land an official song would be to rob it of its poetic career and doom it to a political straitjacket, no matter how well-fitting the jacket might seem to be at the time.
When I sing the song now, I still usually end up with the gloriously optimistic verse, "The sun came shining and I was strolling". But before this I do a lot of singing and talking and often throw in a couple new verses of my own. [...] Dozens of other verses have been written to the song within the last 10 years. Some of them simply change a few words to make the chorus apply to Canada or to England or Australia. There have been verses sung from New Mexico in Spanish. There have been anti-pollution verses. I always encourage anyone who loves any song not to be ashamed to try making up verses for it. Try some language other than English, if only to remind ourselves that this America of ours is a multi-national place.
[In] May 1968 in Resurrection City, Washington, D.C., Jimmy Collier, a great young black singer from the midwest, was asked to lead this song. Henry Crowdog of the Sioux Indian delegation came up and punched his finger in Jimmy's chest. "Hey, you're both wrong. It belongs to me." Jimmy stopped and added seriously, "Should we not sing this song?" Then a big grin came over Henry Crowdog's face. "No, it's okay. Go ahead and sing it. As long as we are all down here together to get something done." And then Jimmy sailed into the chorus and the crowd roared it along with him. (Pete Seeger, This Land Is Your Land. Portrait of a song as a bird in flight. Article written for 'Village Voice', quoted in Seeger, Flowers 143ff)
[1972:] Yet if Guthrie's focus was often critical, it was not exclusively so, for he found much to celebrate in the country that he traveled so extensively. 'This Land Is Your Land' has truly become a folk national anthem - [...] its tune taken from two Carter Family songs, its words derived from Guthrie's own experience. (Notes 'The Greatest Songs of Woody Guthrie' - Library of Congress recordings)
[1979:] [Dies] ist zum Volkslied geworden. Jeder hat es schon einmal gehört oder kennt es sogar auswendig. Was viele nicht wissen, ist, daß es unzählige Strophen gibt, die über die Jahrzehnte hin entstanden und im Inhalt den Problemen der jeweiligen Zeit oder Begebenheit entsprechen. Dies ist mit eine der wichtigsten Aufgaben eines Volksliedes. (Bursch 112)
[1980:] Hymne der Folk-Song-Bewegung [...] gleichzeitig von der reaktionären Country & Western-Szenerie als ihr Eigentum mißbraucht [...]. (Siniveer, Folk-Lexikon 118)
[1980:] "I remember him coming home from the hospital and taking me out to the backyard, just him and me, and teaching me the last three verses to 'This Land Is Your Land' because he thinks that if I don't learn them, no one will remember. He can barely strum the guitar at this point [suffering from Huntingdon's Chorea], and - can you imagine - his friends think he's a drunk, crazy, and they stick him in a puke green room in a mental hospital with all these crazy people. ...
"And then - and this is so weird you really can't even begin to figure it - when he can't write or talk or do anything at all anymore, he hits it big. All of a sudden everyone is singing his songs. Kids are singing 'This Land Is Your Land' in school and people are talking about making it the national anthem. Bob Dylan and all the others are copying him. And he can't react to it. Here's this guy who always had all these words and now that he's making it really big, he can't say anything. But his mind is still there. The disease doesn't affect his mind. He's sitting there in a mental hospital, and he knows what's going on, and he can't say anything or tell anyone how he feels. It's Shakespearean. Only Shakespeare could write something like that. ..." (Arlo Guthrie about his father, quoted in Klein, Woody Guthrie XII)
[1980:] "God Bless America", Irving Berlin's patriotic pop tune, seemed to be everywhere that winter. No piece of music had bothered him so much since "This World Is Not My Home", although Bing Crosby's narcotic, lay-down-and-die version of "Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams, and Dream Your Troubles Away" had come close. "God Bless America", indeed - it was just another of those songs that told people not to worry, that God was in the driver's seat. Some sort of response obviously was called for and, as he hitched north and east through Appalachia's foggy ghostlands, a string of words began to take shape in Woody's mind. [...]
[Finding himself an unwelcome house guest with several friends in New York, he moved to a fleabag hotel.] Angry, frustrated, and feeling sorry for himself, he took it out on Irving Berlin, finally writing down the words that he'd been turning over in his mind for several weeks. At the top of a piece of loose-leaf paper, he wrote "God Blessed America", and began the first verse:
He stopped, crossed out "Staten", and put in "New York".
- This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to Staten Island
- From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf Stream waters
God Blessed America for me.
He wrote five more verses in the dingy hotel room. 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". [...]
He noted at the bottom of the page: "All you can write is what you see," and signed it - he was beginning to sign all his pages now - "Woody G." and marked the date, February 23, 1940, and the location. Then he completely forgot about the song, and didn't do anything with it for another five years. (Klein, Woody Guthrie 136ff)
[In April, 1944, Woody recorded about 120 of his songs for Moe Asch.] One of the songs at the last, undated, session was Woody's old Irving Berlin parody, "God Blessed America", changed slightly, with a new tag line at the end of each verse ("This land was made for you and me ...") and a new title, "This Land Is My Land". Woody didn't treat the song any differently than his others, but Moe Asch (later) claimed that he knew it was a very important composition from the start. (Klein, Woody Guthrie 276)
"This Land Is Your Land" often was mentioned as a possible replacement for "The Star-Spangled Banner" as the national anthem. It was used as an advertising jingle by United Airlines and the Ford Motor Company, and was the theme song for George McGovern's 1972 presidential campaign. In 1975, untold millions of children across the country sang it simultaneously one morning to open the first annual Music in Our Schools Day. It also was recorded by [everybody with a name - twenty in all] - few of whom could have realized that they were singing a song originally intended as a Marxist response to "God Bless America". (Klein, Woody Guthrie 433f)
[1985:] To finish off the evening [at Resurrection City, Washington, D.C., in May 1968, Pete] Seeger asked [Jimmy] Collier to lead [this]. Jimmy hesitated before answering: "Pete, why don't you ask Henry Crow Dog first - ask him if it's all right to sing that song." Seeger was dumbfounded. How could it not be all right?
"You have to understand," Collier said later, "sitting with a couple Apaches in full dress I felt a little silly singing 'This Land Is Your Land'." "Reverend Kirkpatrick and Jimmy Collier were saying, 'This land belongs to the Indians! I'm going to sing 'This Land', but I've asked Chief Crow Dog's permission,'" Bernice [Reagon Johnson] remembered. "That song was the basis of Pete's principles, him and good old Woody. And it's the basis of the American dream - coming in and building a country, freedom, blah, blah. I felt that in '67 and '68, all that got smashed to smithereens. [...] I remember Pete talking constantly about the exchange with Kirkpatrick and Collier around Chief Crow Dog, and how he then had a hard time doing 'This Land Is Your Land'. It felt like he didn't know what to sing [...] he wasn't sure what his function was." (Dunaway, Seeger 276)
[1987:] Die allgemein bekannte und auch an den amerikanischen Schulen gesungene Fassung erweckt den Eindruck, Amerika sei toll, alles o.k. Dabei gibt es eine fünfte Strophe; die Urfassung mit dem Titel 'God Blessed America' enthielt gar noch eine sechste, die besonders herb auf die Wirklichkeit eingeht:
- 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
(Wieland Ulrichs, musikblatt 3/87)
By the Relief office I saw my people
As they stood hungry I stood there wondering if
God blessed America for me
[1993:] And Woody later added a good new last verse:
- Nobody living can ever stop me(Seeger, Flowers 142)
As I go walking my freedom highway
Nobody living can make me turn back
This land was made for you and me