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Coney Island corner to honor folk music icon Woody Guthrie

BY VICTOR PORCELLI

This Saturday, the corner of Mermaid Avenue and West 35th Street will be co-named after Woody Guthrie to honor the folk singer-songwriter who once lived in Coney Island, just hours before the neighborhood turns out en masse to celebrate the Mermaid Parade, which will be led by Woody’s children, Arlo and Nora.

The two — who will be King Neptune and Queen Mermaid in the afternoon parade — will be on hand as the corner which they lived near during the family’s years in the neighborhood is co-named “Woody Guthrie Way.”

Woody is most well-known for his song “This Land is Your Land” which, like most of his music, included political commentary on America. Written by Guthrie in 1940, the song was a response to the overplaying of Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” and was meant to highlight issues in the country that Guthrie felt Berlin’s song did not acknowledge. Guthrie’s use of political commentary was unpopular at the time but later inspired artists like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.

To his daughter Nora, who is now the president of the Woody Guthrie Foundation and founder and director of the Woody Guthrie Archives, the co-naming of the street corner serves as recognition of her father’s legacy.

“It gives me a lot of hope that some of our ideas that we’ve grown up with in the songs that my father wrote — which were controversial at the time that he wrote them — are now being recognized as part of the American culture,” Nora told Brooklyn Reporter.

City Councilmember Mark Treyger, who represents the area, will host the co-naming ceremony. He said the renaming shows Coney Island’s appreciation for Guthrie and his contributions in a statement to Brooklyn Reporter.

“Woody Guthrie has inspired several generations of musicians and political advocacy for social movements throughout the United States and continues to serve as a motivating figure in history,” Treyger said. “Coney Island was his beloved home for many years and we in Coney Island appreciate his renowned musical talent and social advocacy.”

District Manager of Community Board 13 Eddie Mark echoed Treyger’s sentiment.

“It’s been a long-awaited honor to have a street named after Woody Guthrie, and we are happy that the street is being co-named after him,” Mark said.

Although many Coney Island residents may remember Woody’s impact, some may have never heard of the singer, who died in 1967. Nora hopes “Woody Guthrie Way” will encourage some locals to be reinspired by her father and maybe even follow in his footsteps.

“It doesn’t have to be everyone,” Nora said. “Sometimes it just takes one kid to look up and say ‘who’s that?’ and then a whole new cycle begins, of activists, of good people, of curious people, of songwriters.”

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