Date of Award


Document Type

USM Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


American New England Studies

First Advisor

Ardis Cameron

Second Advisor

Donna Cassidy

Third Advisor

Adam Tuchinsky, Dean


Evolution of Woody Guthrie's music, Okie-Hillbilly, iconic figure, influencial musician


As the title indicates, this thesis presents the life and legacy of Woody Guthrie. It begins by investigating the problematic use of the term “folk music” pertaining to Woody Guthrie and his legacy. Like the many meanings of the term “folk music,” there is difference between Woody Guthrie the historical figure and “Woody” the icon. Most biographers focus on Guthrie as a subject in history. This paper traces how Guthrie evolves from being Woody Guthrie the historical subject to “Woody” the cultural icon, a larger-than-life Chapter one persona whose legacy lives on in various manifestations. Chapter one presents Woody Guthrie’s life from the time he lived in Oklahoma and Texas, to when he moved to California and then to New York City. This chapter highlights significant moments in the early days of Guthrie’s life that helped shape him into a spokesperson for the working class and a protester against capitalism in the United States. In chapter two, Guthrie begins to gain notoriety and evolves as a major figure in popularizing American protest music. The chapter is organized into two major “waves” of protest music: the first being the post WWII era and the second the civil rights and Cold War/Vietnam War era. This chapter shows how Guthrie’s music and presence influenced major names in music like Pete Seeger, The Weavers, and Bob Dylan. The final chapter of this thesis investigates Guthrie’s legacy after he dies. It traces the evolution of the anthemic “This Land is Your Land” and its various implications. After his death, Woody Guthrie’s songs and character are constantly being reshaped, ultimately dependent upon the audience and the time. To help develop and explore this idea, various examples are used from contemporary artists like Bruce Springsteen, Wilco, and Arlo Guthrie. By studying Woody Guthrie as a cultural icon, this work attempts to forward the discussion on how the shaping of a popular musician is dependent upon the unclear boundaries between history, music, politics, and culture.


This thesis is restricted to USM access only.