ABA Journal, November 2016 — As he hitchhiked around the country in 1940, Woody Guthrie got sick of hearing Irving Berlin’s patriotic hit “God Bless America” on car radios and jukeboxes. So the itinerant folk singer penned his own anthem in response—with lyrics that challenged the concept of private property. He called the song “This Land.” Five years later, Guthrie included the lyrics in a booklet of 10 songs he’d written. He printed copies and put a 25-cent price on the cover—along with “Copyright 1945 W. Guthrie.”
That same decade, striking tobacco workers in Charleston, South Carolina, lifted their voices to an old African-American spiritual, vowing that they’d triumph: “We Will Overcome.” Or did they sing “We Shall Overcome”? At some point, someone tweaked the lyrics, which had been evolving for decades. The word will became shall, and the phrase down in my heart changed to deep in my heart.
Those new words were on the page when Ludlow Music applied for a copyright in 1960, crediting Zilphia Horton, Frank Hamilton and Guy Carawan—not as authors of the original song but as the people who’d written new verses and a new arrangement. The company filed for another copyright in 1963, adding more verses and another name: Pete Seeger. But were these people responsible for the words in the most famous verse? Or do those words belong to the public? Read the rest of the article at the ABA Journal.