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Woody Guthrie archive to land in his native state

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) ― Woody Guthrie’s writings, recordings and artwork will land in his native state after an Oklahoma foundation bought the collection, with plans for a display that concentrates on his artistry rather than the populist politics that divided local opinion over the years.

Guthrie, known for the anthem, “This Land is Your Land’’ and his songs about the poor and downtrodden, is remembered mostly as a musician, composer and singer, but was also a literary figure and an artist, said Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society.

“Woody Guthrie was a crossroads of creativity,’’ Blackburn said. “Woody Guthrie reveals so much about our history.’’

The George Kaiser Family Foundation, a charitable organization based in Tulsa, announced Wednesday that it purchased the archives and plans to open the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa by the end of 2012 to mark the centennial of the singer’s birth.

The foundation did not disclose how much it paid for the collection, which includes the original handwritten copy of “This Land is Your Land.’’ Also included are original musical recordings, handwritten songbooks and almost 3,000 song lyrics, rare books by and about Guthrie, more than 700 pieces of artwork, letters and postcards, more than 500 photographs, Guthrie’s annotated record collection and personal papers detailing family matters, his World War II military service and musical career.

The archive had been housed in the Mount Kisco, New York, home of Nora Guthrie, the songwriter’s daughter. Woody Guthrie, a native of Okemah, died of Huntington’s disease, a hereditary neurodegenerative condition, in 1967 at the age of 55.

While Guthrie’s social activism rubbed some conservative Oklahomans the wrong way, Blackburn said his songs reflect the down-to-earth sentiment of the state where he was born.

“Woody Guthrie never changed his opinion,’’ Blackburn said. “Woody Guthrie was a populist who was fearful of big business, fearful of big government. That populist message came out of Oklahoma’s red soil.’’

Oklahoma musician and music historian Steve Ripley, who has performed with Bob Dylan and also worked with Oklahoma native Leon Russell, said Guthrie’s work influenced them and other musicians including Bruce Springsteen.

“Most people recognize him as America’s songwriter,’’ Ripley said. “He’s so important in his own right. He’s writing about everything, and that was his genius.’’

Guthrie did not have much of an audience for his music early in his career, Blackburn said, but his popularity soared during the economic and cultural tumult caused by the Great Depression.
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