YORK TOWN (1940-1941)
New York City, New York
Never comfortable with
success, or being in one place for too long, Woody headed east for
New York City, arriving in 1940. He was quickly embraced for his
Steinbeckian homespun wisdom and musical "authenticity"
by leftist organizations, artists, writers, musicians, and progressive
intellectuals. That same year, folklorist Alan Lomax recorded Woody
in a series of conversations and songs for the Library of Congress
in Washington, DC. Woody also recorded “Dust Bowl Ballads” for RCA Victor, his first album of original songs, and throughout
the 1940s he continued to record hundreds of discs for Moses Asch,
founder of Folkways Records. The recordings from this early period
continue to be touchstones for folk music singer-songwriters everywhere.
In New York City, Lead
Belly, Cisco Houston, Burl Ives, Pete Seeger, Will Geer, Sonny Terry,
Brownie McGhee, Josh White, Millard Lampell, Bess Hawes, Sis Cunningham,
among others, all became Woody's close friends and musical collaborators.
Forming a loosely knit folk group called The Almanac Singers, they
took up social causes such as union organizing, anti-Fascism, strengthening
the Communist Party, peace, and generally fighting for the things
they believed in the best way they could: through songs of political
protest and activism. Woody became one of the prominent songwriters
for the Almanac Singers.
The Almanacs helped to
establish folk music as a viable commercial genre within the popular
music industry. A decade later, original members of the Almanacs
would re-form as the Weavers, the most commercially successful and
influential folk music group of the early 1950s. It was through
their tremendous popularity that Woody’s songs would become
known to the larger public.
popularity, prosperity and critical success from public performances,
recordings, and even his own radio show, Woody could afford to bring
his struggling family to New York to enjoy his new found success.