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Todd Harvey, Reference Librarian, American Folklife Center
Created: March 15, 2022
Last Updated: March 17, 2022
The American Folklife Center (AFC) produces guides for the purpose of directing users to resources and collections in support of research on a range of topics connected to folklife, cultural heritage, and ethnographic documentation.
This guide is part of a series of topical guides focusing on "areas of distinction" within AFC collections, as articulated in the Center's Collection Policy Statement. These topical guides are intended to be curated access points for AFC's rich resources, rather than comprehensive of definitive listings.
"How's the skid row section of the poor folks division of the Library of Congress?"
—Woody Guthrie in a letter to Alan Lomax, referring to what is now the American Folklife Center
In March 1940 Woody Guthrie joined the growing chorus of American voices documented in Library of Congress collections. Texan Alan Lomax had met Oklahoman Guthrie in New York City a short time earlier when Alan was scouting talent to feature on his CBS radio program Folk Music of America. Lomax scheduled an air audition in Washington. Already a radio veteran, Guthrie delivered brilliantly with nearly three hours of songs and stories of his life and travels—he was not yet 30!—during the course of which Alan realized that he had found the perfect "everyman" counterweight to his rotating radio cast of Huddie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter, Aunt Molly Jackson, Pete Seeger, Burl Ives, and the Golden Gate Quartet. Woody joined the program in early April of that year in an episode titled "Poor Farmer Songs."
Since that point, the Library of Congress has steadily collected materials relating to Woody Guthrie, almost all of them dated between 1940 and the early 1950s, when Guthrie's creativity was stifled by the degenerative Huntington's disease. American Folklife Center Guthrie collections are comprised mostly of sound recordings, song lyric sheets, and correspondence.
The following guide offers general research strategies for use of the American Folklife Center collections.