Woody Guthrie in the Pacific Northwest: the Lost Songs

Seventy years ago, folksinger Woody Guthrie spent one month in the Northwest traveling up and down the Columbia River writing songs for the Bonneville Power Administration. The songs he wrote during that short stay in 1941 still resonate in the Northwest and compel us to claim Guthrie for our own. While his most famous song from that time, “Roll On, Columbia,” is Washington State’s official folk song, many of the songs Guthrie wrote while he was in Portland were lost to the public for many years.

In the mid-1980s, BPA employee Bill Murlin rediscovered Guthrie’s Columbia River songs and worked with oral historian and producer Michael O’Rourke to create a radio documentary for OPB, broadcasting many of the songs for the first time. O’Rourke turned this radio documentary into a film, including interviews with people who knew and worked with Guthrie. That film will be debuted publicly at The Oregon Encyclopedia History Night on Tuesday, April 26, 6:30pm, at the McMenamin’s Edgefield Power Station. Bill Murlin will be on hand to talk about his discovery of the lost songs and to play his guitar.

Please join The Oregon Encyclopedia to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Woody Guthrie’s month in Portland with this tribute to a man who put the Columbia River and the Northwest to music. Free and open to the public, all ages welcome. Food, beer, and wine available during the film and performance.

When:  Tuesday, April 26, 6:30 p.m. McMenamins Edgefield, 2126 SW Halsey St., Troutdale

5 thoughts

  1. I love how they were all, “We’re building a dam. Let’s hire a folksinger!” Wish they’d do that today.

  2. I so wish I could be there…I’m here in Philadelphia and
    it’s my Birthday on that day….Not that it’s a biggie..just another for them to bring out old clippings.
    Keep up the good work….You’re another reason “Oregon is
    NOT lost.” Allison

  3. I was a 16-year old @ MHS in 1959, and like several of my football teammates/classmates grew a beard for that 100-year BD. My ride to amateur rodeos in eastern Oregon, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming was via thumb, friends’ junkers and freight trains heading east along the Columbia through Hood River, Boardman and Pendleton.

    A century before that my maternal family immigrated from South Africa to southern Utah. The notion of a 100-year time quantum was wholly disconnected from my sense of immortality as a teenager; but, of course, as I’ve swept into my late 60’s (at the speed of light) I’m reminded daily of what a brief candle flicker a century represents in life’s brief dream.

    Thanks for kindling some of those long ago memories with the various postings and photographs on your site.

  4. For the record ( and I personally like Woody’s songs) all was not so happy in the folk songs world in those days. Guthrie was viewed as very controversial (pretty close to marked as a “commie”) and some were very opposed to having him in on that project.

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