The Ballad of Cis Cunningham

September 22, 2017

The Ballad of Cis Cunningham

In late May 1940, Woody Guthrie was riding high in New York City. Although Guthrie had already made a name for himself in California, he was still relatively unknown on the East Coast. Back in March, he performed at a musical celebration of the just-released film version of The Grapes of Wrath. Folk music archivist Alan Lomax attended the event and was starstruck. Guthrie embodied the working class hero he and other East Coast liberals imagined. Within weeks, with Lomax’s help, Guthrie recorded Dust Bowl Ballads for RCA Victor and was featured on a coast-to-coast broadcast over CBS radio. He bought a new Plymouth with his advance from Victor. Once he got paid by CBS, he drove to Washington, D.C., and picked up Pete Seeger, who was working for the Library of Congress. They drove together through the South on their way to visit Woody’s wife and children in Pampa, Texas.