It 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 to not drop everything without thinking twice.
|Musician(s)||Woody Guthrie (guitar and vocals)|
|Learn to play||Guitar|
|Album||Dust Bowl Ballads|
The Carter Family
Little Red Songbook
Ramblin Jack Elliot
Ed Cray, Ramblin' Man: The Life and Times of Woody Guthrie (2004)
This one competes with Joe Klein's for the title of the "authoritative biography" on Guthrie. As they say, two is better than one.
Woody Guthrie, Bound for Glory (1943)
This is a rambling record of some of Guthrie's life in Oklahoma and beyond, brought to us in the voice of the poet himself.
Joe Klein, Woody Guthrie: A Life (1999)
This is the first in-depth biography of Woody Guthrie to come out and surprisingly, it didn't until 1999.
Bill Nowlin, Woody Guthrie - American Radical Patriot (2013)
This book compiles all the golden archives of Guthrie into one book, including the famous 1940 Alan Lomax Library of Congress recordings.
John Steinbeck, East of Eden (1952)
If you liked Grapes of Wrath, you'll love East of Eden. Steinbeck takes us deep into the promised land of California to tell a devastating moral tale about good and evil. Plus, we've got a learning guide for it.
John Steinbeck, Grapes of Wrath (1939)
Steinbeck's classic book is like a companion volume to Dust Bowl Ballads, telling the very story that Guthrie warns about in "Do Re Mi." We've got a learning guide for this one, too.
Donald Worster, Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s (1979)
Worster's is one of many great historical accounts of Depression-era Oklahoma.
Dust Bowl Ballads (1940)
This album is full of gems. Although they're all on the theme of the Oklahoma Dust Bowl, each song tells its own new story.
Library of Congress Recordings: Woody Guthrie with Alan Lomax (1988)
In 1940, the great folklorist Alan Lomax brought Woody Guthrie into his studio to make three hours of recordings of Guthrie talking about his songs and singing them. Get every song on Dust Bowl Ballads alongside Guthrie's commentary.
Dust Bowl Map
Confused about where the Dust Bowl actually is? Wonder no longer.
You can understand why a person might want to find the "do re mi" and get the heck out.
Woody Guthrie's Childhood Home
Guthrie's own story really did start in rural Oklahoma.
Dust Bowl Photo Gallery
Here you can find tons of photos by Dust Bowl photographers, including the most famous, Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother."
The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
Guthrie wasn't the only one interested in exploring the Dust Bowl theme. The same year he released Dust Bowl Ballads, Hollywood got on board with this classic film based on Steinbeck's novel.
Bound for Glory (1976)
This film dramatizes Guthrie's story, apparently with some success and even accuracy.
This is a fascinating TV series about a group of circus freaks traveling the Dust Bowl and beyond in the mid-1930s. It gives a new, strange color to the tales of Steinbeck and the songs of Guthrie, and you only have to watch the first episode to get a taste of a dust storm.
Ken Burns: The Dust Bowl (2012)
Ken Burns' series does a thorough job of covering all things Dust Bowl and migrant workers. For a bunch of free clips from the episodes, head over to PBS's site on the Dust Bowl.
"Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning," PBS American Masters (2014)
For an in-depth documentary on the photographer famous for her Dust Bowl images, be sure to check this PBS episode out, from their fantastic American Masters series.
Woody Guthrie's Official Site
The site includes a good biography and a detailed listing of the contents of the Woody Guthrie archives.
PBS's Dorothea Lange Biography with Photo Gallery
Photographer Dorothea Lange took an iconic series of photos of Dust Bowl migrants in the 1930s, and you'll probably recognize some of her images immediately.
The Library of Congress' "Voices from the Dust Bowl: the Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin Migrant Worker Collection, 1940 to 1941"
This is an informative collection of pages, full of clear information, articles, and compelling photos on the Dust Bowl migration.
"Do Re Mi"
Here's the song in all its California's-not-all-it's-cracked-up-to-be glory.
PBS's "'Migrant Mother' Photo Series at the Library of Congress"
Before the release of PBS's "Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning," the director stopped by the Library of Congress' photo series.