Grand Coulee Dam

Album: This Land Is Your Land: Asch Recordings Volume 1 (1941)
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Songfacts®:

  • The Grand Coulee Dam is a massive dam on the Columbia River located in Washington State. It's the largest producer of electricity, and building it was quite a feat of engineering.
  • Woody Guthrie wrote thousands of songs, but this is one of the few that he was paid to write. The Bonneville Power Administration hired him to write songs for a month to promote the project, and Guthrie came up with a series of songs, which included this and "Roll On Columbia." The songs were not merely propaganda for a power company, but were a genuine expression of pride in the beauty of America and the ingenuity of its people. Anna Canoni, who is Guthrie's granddaughter and a director at the Woody Guthrie Foundation, said: "I think that was probably the only time he was paid. And they may have just said, 'Write about this project,' and then he took that to mean whatever he wanted it to mean for himself. I think some of his most powerful work came from that time period, from those 30 days that he spent on the Columbia River." (Thanks to Anna Canoni for speaking with us about this song. Read more in her full interview. Learn much more at the official Woody Guthrie website.)
  • The only recording of Guthrie performing to a live audience can be found on the album The Live Wire: Woody Guthrie in Performance 1949, which was compiled from wire recordings of Guthrie and released on an album in 2007. "Grand Coulee Dam" is one of the tracks Guthrie performed at this show.

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