In 1999, as a young graduate student, historian Peter LaChapelle was working on a dissertation about folk music and the migration of people during the dust bowl. Naturally, he focused on Woody Guthrie, the singer-songwriter who traveled the country and wrote about the deprivations and labor uprisings of the Great Depression. The research led LaChapelle
to a small library in Los Angeles. And there in the stacks of records he found a treasure -- four previously unknown recordings that are now believed to be the oldest recordings Woody Guthrie ever made.
Smithsonian Folkways released the recordings in summer 2012 as part of a compliation celebrating Woody Guthrie's 100th birthday
. We talk with Peter La Chapelle about his discovery, and the significance of Woody Guthrie as a chronicler of American life.