As our readers may remember, we’ve been working with No Depression, The Journal of Roots Music, which is published by the nonprofit Freshgrass Foundation. They’re publishing a column called Roots in the Archive, featuring content from the American Folklife Center and Folklife Today. Find the series at this link, over at their website!
The latest Roots in the Archive column is about the Arlo Guthrie birth announcement, a fantastic manuscript item from the Alan Lomax Collection. Find the article at this link. Or if you need convincing, here’s an excerpt:
Arlo Guthrie is a beloved elder of Americana, known for such whimsical stories and songs as “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” and “The Motorcycle Song,” as well as many social justice songs, not to mention an iconic cover of “City of New Orleans.” He’s the father of Sarah Lee, Annie, Cathy, and Abe, all musicians, making him a roots music patriarch.
Of course, Arlo is also the son of Woody Guthrie, a towering figure in American folk music, writer of “This Land is Your Land,” “Pretty Boy Floyd,” “Philadelphia Lawyer,” and countless other songs. In addition to being one of our greatest singer-songwriters, Woody Guthrie wrote stories, poems, and essays, and was an accomplished illustrator and visual artist in several media. All of this makes a handwritten, illustrated letter created by Woody to announce Arlo’s birth one of the most interesting items in the archive of the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress.
The Arlo Guthrie birth announcement was sent by Woody to his friend Alan Lomax in 1947. Typed and embellished with finger-painted lettering, the announcement is in the form of a handmade greeting card, a single sheet folded in half to form a front and back cover and a center spread. The front consists of stylized line art representing a mother and baby, a greeting to the Lomax family, and the name “Arlo Guthrie,” painted in several different styles and colors. The back consists of the words “Here I Am” in large painted letters. Both sides bear the date, and the name “Arlo Guthrie” written in Woody’s handwriting.
The column also features the whimsical text of the birth announcement, which is written in the voice of baby Arlo, and my own thoughts on this one-of-a-kind manuscript. Of course, the American Folklife Center also has many more resources related to Woody Guthrie, and you can find out more about those in the column too. Once again, find the column over at No Depression, at this link!