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Rare Photos: One Of Woody Guthrie’s Last Shows

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
July 14, 2012

After the dust of the Dust Bowl settled down, American folksinger Woody Guthrie moved to New York City and played more for the leftist East Coast intelligentsia than for migrant workers. Among these performances, one of the better documented was an informal concert in a remarkable carriage house in Lenox, Mass.

Neighbors to Tanglewood and the other arts institutions in the Berkshires, Philip and Stephanie Barber ran the Music Inn as a retreat for New York City intellectuals. Over the course of 30 years, they would hold informal folk and jazz concerts, roundtable discussions and other salon-style cultural events in the carriage house of the former summer estate of the Countess de Heredia.

The first concert was in July 1950. Alan Lomax, a friend of the Barbers, hosted a concert featuring Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and the Rev. Gary Davis. Among those in attendance was Dan Burley, a piano player and journalist for the Amsterdam News and other African-American newspapers.

We don’t know exactly what music was played that night, but it appears that Woody drew on his early years of Oklahoma fiddling, as well as the political songs for which he was better known. The photographs show him engaged in some trick fiddling and playing a guitar with his hand-scrawled signature phrase, “This machine kills fascists.”

This is believed to be one of Woody’s last performances before Huntington’s disease began to affect his behavior and ability to play and sing.

These images survive only as a set of contact sheets. The photographer was Leonard Rosenberg, a student of Ben Shahn and a member of the Photo League, whose mother ran another inn in Lenox. Rosenberg later changed his last name to Ross when he went to work as a photographer for Bethlehem Steel.

Today the photographs and the rest of the Music Inn archive are privately owned by the Barbers’ children.

A documentary film on the Music Inn is currently in the final stages of production.

Found in the Archives, a Picture Show miniseries, features archival films and found images selected by researcher Rich Remsberg. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

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