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Origins of the Singer Songwriter (Part 3)

The political singer songwriter

Woody Guthrie is known to of influenced a lot of musicians through the years including Bob Dylan, he started playing guitar as a young man and eventually started focusing on social commentary in his lyrics while he was working at a radio station in LA after being forced to leave his home town of Oklahoma due to the economic issues. His music career saw him sticking up for the working class with songs like ‘This land is your land’ a song that was written after he had listened to ‘God Bless America’ too many times over the radio station that he was working at. ‘He was irritated by Irving Berlin's "God Bless America," sung by Kate Smith, which seemed to be endlessly playing on the radio on the late 1930s. So irritated, in fact, that he wrote this song as a retort, at first sarcastically calling it "God Blessed America for Me" before renaming it "This Land Is Your Land’’. Nick Spitzer (2012). 

A large chunk of the folk revival during the 60’s carried a strong political message, with huge social and political unrest on many issues, a few singer songwriters in particular really gave it their all to press issues that they felt strongly about. The most obvious examples of this alongside Dylan would be his then girlfriend Joan Baez as well as the likes of Sam Cooke, Phil Ochs and Buffy Sainte Marie just to name a few. It was a very popular subject for artists and led to Dylan in particular being labelled as ‘the voice of the generation’. The first genuinely significant event was during the Vietnam War, this period saw many protests all around the United States and with it came a stream of protest songs, songs like ‘Universal Soldier’ by Buffy Sainte Marie and ‘I aint marching anymore’ by Phil Ochs, the Phil Ochs song was particularly iconic as he played it at a lot of political rallies during its release and was incredibly vocal about his political beliefs. Ochs was a key figure in the protest movement, and he performed at many civil rights and anti-Vietnam! rallies. That being said, he did have an issue with the label "protest singer." He preferred being referred to as a topical singer’. C J Baker (2017).

George Capon

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