Odetta, an icon of great music, has passed away. This is my tribute to her.
“It’s a Bourgeois Town”–embedding disabled by request; here’s the link:
Odetta sang at coffeehouses and at Carnegie Hall, made highly influential recordings of blues and ballads, and became one of the most widely known folk-music artists of the 1950s and ’60s. She was a formative influence on dozens of artists, including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Janis Joplin.
Her voice was an accompaniment to the black-and-white images of the freedom marchers who walked the roads of Alabama and Mississippi and the boulevards of Washington in the quest to end racial discrimination.
Rosa Parks, the woman who started the boycott of segregated buses in Montgomery, Ala., was once asked which songs meant the most to her. She replied, “All of the songs Odetta sings.”
With Doctor John:
Odetta Holmes was born in Birmingham, Ala., on Dec. 31, 1930, in the depths of the Depression. The music of that time and place – particularly prison songs and work songs recorded in the fields of the Deep South – shaped her life.
“They were liberation songs,” she said in a videotaped interview with The New York Times in 2007 for its online feature “The Last Word.” “You’re walking down life’s road, society’s foot is on your throat, every which way you turn you can’t get from under that foot. And you reach a fork in the road and you can either lie down and die, or insist upon your life.”
With Ruby Dee:
Ruby Dee’s monologue, bookended by Odetta’s music, is extremely powerful. Every dd denizen should watch/listen to this.
A beautiful blues number: again, embedding disabled by request; here’s the link:
“A teacher told my mother that I had a voice, that maybe I should study,” she recalled. “But I myself didn’t have anything to measure it by.”
She found her own voice by listening to blues, jazz and folk music from the African-American and Anglo-American traditions. She earned a music degree from Los Angeles City College.