2019 Woody Guthrie Prize
Rapper, author and producer Chuck D received the 2019 Woody Guthrie Prize, honoring the artistic pioneer’s long career of bringing social issues to light through his music, writings and activism, at a ceremony November 16 at Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa.
Local hip-hop artist Steph Simon opened the event with one of Public Enemy’s fundamental works, “Fight the Power.” After receiving the award, Chuck D sat down for a Q&A with GRAMMY Museum Curator, Bob Santelli.
Through his decades as a hip-hop innovator, founder of the highly influential group Public Enemy and as a distinctive solo artist, Chuck D has deployed his art to bring to the forefront issues facing the African-American community. With an emphasis on social justice — told in Chuck D’s commanding voice with thought-provoking lyrics on top of a blaring wall of sound that demanded the listener’s attention — Public Enemy became one of the most recognized and revered groups in hip-hop and popular music at large.
“Woody was a fighter for the people, and Chuck D’s message has consistently aligned with Woody’s: choose a side, fight the power, and work for a better world,” said Deana McCloud, director of the Woody Guthrie Center. “We are honored to recognize Chuck’s work as he shines a light on social and cultural issues through his words and encourages us all to take action for equality and justice. We know that Woody would be rapping right alongside him as he speaks truth to power.”
Born in Queens, New York, in 1960, Chuck D formed Public Enemy at the dawn of hip-hop, with the group releasing its debut album in 1987. Public Enemy’s first four albums were each certified platinum or gold, demonstrating that songs with a social consciousness could also be commercially successful.
Chuck D has released four solo albums and recently helped form the super group Prophets of Rage with former Public Enemy band mate DJ Lord, three members of Rage Against The Machine and Cypress Hill rapper B-Real. Chuck D has also taken his social justice work outside the recording studio, working with radio syndicate Air America and as a spokesman for activist organizations Rock the Vote, the National Urban League, Americans for the Arts Council and the National Alliance for African-American Athletes. Chuck D also wrote the seminal history of hip-hop, “This Day in Rap and Hip-Hop History,” in 2017.
As a member of Public Enemy, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.
The Woody Guthrie Prize recognizes artists across media who have utilized their talents to speak for those without a platform. Past recipients of the award include John Mellencamp, Norman Lear, Kris Kristofferson, Mavis Staples and Pete Seeger. Thank you to the Presenting Sponsor of the 2019 prize ceremony Smolen & Roytman Attorneys.