Chuck D, founder and frontman of the legendary hip-hop group Public Enemy, will receive the 2019 Woody Guthrie Prize. The hip-hop icon, author and social activist will be honored for his career-long dedication to shining light on social issues, specifically Black issues, through his music and writing.
Named for American folk singer Woody Guthrie, the prize honors artists who utilize their various talents to advocate for people without a platform. Past honorees include gospel singer Mavis Staples, “One Day at a Time” producer Norman Lear and folk singer Pete Seeger.
“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, referencing Public Enemy’s galvanizing 1989 song “Fight the Power,” which was prominently featured in Spike Lee’s film “Do the Right Thing.” “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 Carlton Douglas Ridenhour in 1960 in Queens, New York, Chuck formed Public Enemy in the mid-1980s and the group released its debut album in 1987. Yet it was in the following year, with the pioneering “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back,” that the group truly hit its stride, with songs like “Don’t Believe the Hype” and “Bring the Noise.” In 2013, Chuck was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Public Enemy. Outside of the group, Chuck released four solo albums and formed the supergroup Prophets of Rage with members of Cypress Hill and Rage Against the Machine.
In 1997, he addressed negative stereotypes surrounding rap music in an essay book co-written with Yusuf Jah entitled “Fight the Power: Rap, Race and Reality.” In 2010, the prolific rapper released a track called “Tear Down That Wall” in direct opposition to racial profiling of border control.
Chuck acts 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. He is on the board of the TransAfrica Forum, an organization focused on African, Caribbean and Latin American political issues.
He is also the narrator of the eight-episode Spotify podcast “Stay Free: The Story of The Clash.” He uses the parallels between Public Enemy and London punk rock band The Clash to discuss the band’s relevant politics and history.
The Woody Guthrie Center will present the prize at Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa, Okla. on Nov. 16. Ticket information will be released soon.