Holy Ground: The Klezmatics Channel Woody Guthrie

Ray Allen

Abstract


Woody Guthrie’s personal connections to Judaism and Jewish culture began with his courtship and marriage to Marjorie Greenblatt Mazia, daughther of Yiddish writer Aliza Greenblatt, and blossomed when he and his family settled in Brooklyn’s Coney Island. Out of this Jewish connection came a rich body of songs eventually recorded by the New York-based Klezmer band, the Klezmatics. With concert performances and two albums of Guthrie songs — Woody Guthrie’s Happy Joyous Hanukkah and Wonder Wheel — the Klezmatics were instrumental in furthering Nora Guthrie’s project (begun with Billy Bragg and Wilco’s Mermaid Avenue releases) to expand the parameters within which Guthrie has been received. Concerned that biographers and folk music critics had placed too much emphasis on her father’s early Dust Bowl Ballads while downplaying his later songs, Nora Guthrie argued: “He was a poet and a lyricist that wrote about everything. I don’t want to see him turned into a freeze-dried, Dust Bowl icon representing a narrow version of what somebody thinks he was. These songs are just one more facet of his work that will add to a fuller picture of him as a songwriter.”

Keywords


Woody Guthrie; Klezmatics; Nora Guthrie; Judaism; Jewish music; Hanukkah; Coney Island; Aliza Greenblatt

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