Chappaqua resident Nora Guthrie is determined to make sure the world remembers her father and his music.
Nora Guthrie is a professional memory keeper. The 57-year-old daughter of legendary folk singer/songwriter Woody Guthrie spends her days preserving, perpetuating, and nurturing her father’s legacy. She heads the Manhattan-based Woody Guthrie Foundation, Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc., and the Woody Guthrie Archives.
“I love this stuff,” she declares. “What I do has to do with true love.”
Together with her daughter, 28-year-old Anna Canoni, who operates the Foundation’s small satellite office on Mount Kisco’s Main Street, Guthrie, who lives in Chappaqua, oversees a multitude of projects and programs. “We do everything,” she declares, a broad smile creeping across her face, which is encircled, not unlike her famous brother, Arlo’s, by a cascading mane of silvery curls. “We make records, we make soundtracks for films, we do book and record tours, we do radio and television shows. We vacuum the floors and take out the garbage. We do it all.”
Over the years, Guthrie has produced, directed, collaborated with, and consulted on a slew of award-winning Woody Guthrie-related projects. This year, the popular Klezmer band the Klezmatics scored a Grammy for its Nora Guthrie-produced and -conceived release, Wonder Wheel: Lyrics by Woody Guthrie, an album that explores Jewish themes in Woody Guthrie’s work. Closer to home, she has worked with the Jacob Burns Film Center to commemorate Woody’s birthday, July 14. This year, the Pleasantville Music Festival will be honoring Woody with a tribute, followed by a screening at the Burns Center of The Ballad of Ramblin’ Jack, a biopic on Guthrie disciple Ramblin’ Jack Elliot.
So, what was it like growing up Guthrie? “It’s a long story, a book worthy of Oprah.
“But, the short answer is, Great.” Guthrie recognized her father’s genius, but she wasn’t herself a folkie. “I was â€˜Ms. Motown.’ Bob Dylan would be at my house with Phil Ochs playing folk music and I’d be like, â€˜Oh God, this is so boring. Can’t you play something I can dance to?’” Because her father was debilitated by Huntington’s Disease, she says,
“My memories are not what I would call â€˜fond.’ My fondest story is probably what’s happening between us right now—all the collaborations, â€˜conversations,’ and adventures we’re on together now.”