In May of 1941, Woody Guthrie was hired by Stephen Kahn of the Bonneville Power Administration to write folk songs for a new film called The Columbia. The government documentary would promote the benefits of cheap hydro-electric power, irrigation, and land reclamation from a huge public works project on the Columbia River featuring the Bonneville and Grand Coulee dams.
The ambitious New Deal planners and America’s most topical songwriter would team-up in an effort to create a “a new promised land” in the Pacific Northwest. It was ambitious, unlikely, and part of a big optimistic dream to help “the people” in the midst of the Great Depression. It was a very unique time in American history, punctuated with utopian dogma, progressive politics, and a new brand of “Americanism” that emphasized the “cultural wealth” of average citizens. It was the beginnings of an American folk revival as a response to hard times.