Having learned harmonica as a boy and guitar as an adolescent, Guthrie was an itinerant musician and laborer from the age of 13. He was always deeply involved in union and left-wing politics, and he wrote many of his over 1,000 published songs on themes of social injustice, poverty, and politics. A friend of Huddie Ledbetter, Pete Seeger, and Ramblin Jack Elliott, Guthrie exerted a strong influence on younger performers, notably Bob Dylan. His most famous song is probably “This Land Is Your Land.”
Guthrie's son, Arlo Guthrie, 1947–, born in New York City, is also a folk singer and composer. He is best known for “Alice's Restaurant,” a rambling, witty song that was the basis of a motion picture in which he starred (1969).
See his autobiography, Bound for Glory (1943, rev. ed. 1968). See also Robert Shelton, ed., Born to Win (1965); and Henrietta Yurchenco and Marjorie Guthrie, A Mighty Hard Road (1970).