by Jerry Wofford
Few people are more appropriate for the inaugural Woody Guthrie Prize than his friend and fellow singer/songwriter Pete Seeger.
Tulsa’s Woody Guthrie Center announced the first prize — meant too honor annually the artist who “best exemplifies the spirit and life work of Woody Guthrie” — would be awarded to Seeger at a ceremony Feb. 22 at the Peter Norton Symphony Space in New York City.
“We hope that the Woody Guthrie Prize will shed an inspirational light on those who have decided to use their talents for the common good rather than for personal gain,” said Nora Guthrie, daughter of Woody Guthrie. “With his dry wit, Woody always preferred to call himself a ‘common-ist.’ His quote from John Steinbeck’s character, Tom Joad, says it pretty simply: ‘Wherever children are hungry and cry, wherever people ain’t free, wherever men are fightin’ for their rights, that’s where I’m gonna be.’ There are so many people who are living this credo, and they’re the ones we will be honoring.”
Seeger was about seven years younger than Guthrie and the two were fast friends, performing and traveling together. Their work inspired thousands of musicians and kicked off the folk revival of the 60s.
But more germane to the prize, Seeger’s music focused on social change and environmental causes.
“We are honored to present the first Woody Guthrie Prize to Pete Seeger, whose incredible career pushes the boundaries of how music can make us think, feel and act,” said Woody Guthrie Center Executive Director Deana McCloud. “We can think of no better recipient than a colleague, friend and confidant of Woody himself. Pete and Woody are arguably two of the most prolific folk musicians of their lifetime.”
Seeger’s activism in the ’50s and ’60s led to his blacklisting. He has been a staunch advocate for several causes, from anti-war movements, anti-McCarthyism to the Civil Rights Movement.
The award ceremony will include an interview session with Seeger, a performance by Seeger and Arlo Guthrie and additional music by Tony Trischka.