Tuesday evening October 18, musician and actor Kris Kristofferson will receive the Woody Guthrie Prize in a star-studded ceremony at Tulsa’s Cain’s Ballroom – just a stone’s throw from the Woody Guthrie Center, home to the famed troubadour’s archives. The Prize, established in 2014, is given annually to the artist who best exemplifies the spirit and life work of Woody Guthrie by speaking for the less fortunate through music, film, literature, dance or other art forms and serving as a positive force for social change in America. Kristofferson is in good company. Previous recipients are R&B songstress and civil rights advocate Mavis Staples and now-deceased folk singer-activist Pete Seeger.
Kristofferson, famous for penning hits like “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Help Me Make It Through the Night,” is a three-time Grammy award winner and a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, the National Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. As an actor, he’s performed in over 70 films and received a Golden Globe for Best Actor for the 1976 movie “A Star is Born,” co-starring Barbara Streisand and Gary Busey.
Tuesday evening, the multi-talented Kristofferson will be joined onstage by fellow musical luminaries singer songwriter and storyteller extraordinaire Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, country music superstar Rodney Crowell, and folk singer John Flynn.
Deana McCloud, Executive Director of the Woody Guthrie Center, thinks Kristofferson is an excellent choice for the Woody Guthrie Prize.
“Kris has continued in the footsteps of Woody Guthrie, as he has been an outspoken advocate for the United Farm Workers and for peace,” McCloud noted. “His stance on the conflict in Central America in the 80’s negatively affected his commercial sales, but, in Kris’ own words, ‘I had a thing about the truth, you know. I felt, ever since I had gone to be a songwriter, that I was trying to tell the truth. Woody’s views were the same – speak the truth.’ Kris continues to work on behalf of the UFW and on the efforts to have [Native American activist] Leonard Peltier pardoned and released from prison.”
McCloud believes it’s important to recognize those artists who carry on Guthrie’s legacy.
“In Woody’s words, ‘I ain’t dead yet,’” McCloud explained. “We firmly believe that Woody’s spirit lives on in those who continue the work for progress in our society. Those efforts should always be recognized and celebrated, and we are so proud to be doing so on behalf of the Guthrie family and the Woody Guthrie Center. As we recognize individuals who continue creating and taking a stand in the spirit of Woody Guthrie, we feel that it encourages others to find their own voices. That’s what we strive to do every day at the Center – empower a new generation to find their voices and become advocates for change.”
According to McCloud, this need for Woody Guthrie-style activism is even more important today.
“In today’s world, with such a vast gulf separating those who have so much and those who struggle every day, we feel the need for that is more important than ever. Our political climate has become so divisive and hostile that a little harmonizing in order to work together and solve problems is a necessity,” McCloud said. “Let’s take the example of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and others who understood that working together peacefully can create real and lasting change in our world.”
Celebrating the Woody Guthrie Prize in Tulsa is a special event for the city itself and all of those associated with Guthrie’s legacy.
“The location for the Woody Guthrie Prize will be in one of the three places in the country that was special to Woody – in New York, where he lived most of his adult life, in L.A., where he got his start on the radio in the 1930’s and became a spokesperson for the disenfranchised, and of course, Oklahoma,” McCloud noted. “We are so excited to have the event here in Tulsa at the historic Cain’s Ballroom this year. Tulsa’s Brady Arts District is Woody’s new home, so recognizing artists who embody his spirit and work by promoting social justice should happen in Woody’s home.”
In addition to celebrating the lives, music and art of both Kris Kristofferson and the Prize’s namesake, Woody Guthrie, the event helps support the Woody Guthrie Center’s ongoing mission and work.
“This event is one of our two primary fundraisers to support our education initiatives at the Center,” McCloud commented. “All proceeds from this event will go directly toward subsidizing the costs of curating educationally based exhibits, providing outreach to area schools, and creating experiences in the arts for the thousands of students we see each year. These students are our future leaders, so it’s vital for them to learn the power of their voices.”
– With permission from Red Dirt Nation