It pretty much goes without saying that the Great Depression
was, to put it lightly, devastating. But there were few people hit as hard by the Depression as the people living in the area that came to be known as the Dust Bowl, in the Great Plains of the United States. In one of the greatest natural and human-made disasters in U.S. history, over two million poor farmers were pushed out West by the cold, dust storms, and increasingly extreme poverty. They were drawn by the allure of jobs and a dust-free landscape in luscious, warm California.
Woody Guthrie, an Oklahoma native living in Texas, traveled out to California—and when he got there, he found that a lot of the Dust Bowl migrants were worse off there than they'd been back home. By the end of the decade, these migrants were known by the derogatory term "Okies" and they were alternately despised, pitied, and ignored by the people with the power to help. "Do Re Mi" is Guthrie's bitter little warning to his fellow Dust Bowlers not to drop everything without thinking twice.
About the Song
||Musician(s)||Woody Guthrie (guitar, vocals)
|Album||Dust Bowl Ballads|
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What awaited the hundreds of thousands of broke farm families who left their land to go West? No one breaks down the tragic outcome better than John Steinbeck
, whose 1939 novel The Grapes of Wrath
raised awareness a little too late about the disaster of poverty, underemployment, and starvation that struck the Okies on their travels out of the Dust Bowl
. You better believe they were dismayed when they got to the land of milk and honey and discovered that most of the promised jobs had been a joke, a way for landowners to get more workers to the land and keep wages down. Guthrie's song, which could be a soundtrack for the Grapes of Wrath
, is a word to the wise: If you ain't got the do re mi, folks, you ain't got the do re mi
Why, you better go back to beautiful Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Georgia, Tennessee
Unfortunately, this cynical piece of advice arrived a little too late to save anyone. Read on to find out how Woody Guthrie and John Steinbeck both helped rally support for the Dust Bowlers—even if it was too little, too late.
On the Charts
Although "Do Re Mi" and the other songs on Dust Bowl Ballads
were never chart-toppers, Dust Bowl Ballads
was Guthrie's most commercially successful album.