A dynamic force in the American folk music scene for decades, Odetta Holmes was born in Birmingham in 1930. Her father died when she was young, and she assumed her step-father's surname when her mother remarried. Her family moved to Los Angeles, and she began performing at the Turnabout Theater in Hollywood as a teenager. She made her first professional appearance as a folk singer at San Francisco's "Hungry i" in 1950.

She has released numerous recordings, appeared in concert around the world, in films, and on television with Harry Belafonte, Johnny Cash, Dick Cavett, Della Reese, Mike Douglas, Joey Bishop and David Frost. She participated in the Civil Rights march in Selma, and in the 1963 and 1983 Washington marches. A special concern is raising money to support and call attention to, the Folk Music Archives at the Library of Congress. Her spirited performances have inspired artists such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Janis Joplin and Joan Armatrading. She is the recipient of an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C. and the Duke Ellington Fellowship Award from Yale University. She has served as Artist-in-residence at Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA. Odetta passed away on December 2, 2008 at the age of 77.

Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame

Odetta Holmes, (December 31, 1930 – December 2, 2008) known as Odetta, was an American singer, actress, guitarist, songwriter, and a human rights activist, often referred to as "The Voice of the Civil Rights Movement". Her musical repertoire consisted largely of American folk music, blues, jazz, and spirituals. An important figure in the American folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960s, she was influential musically and ideologically to many of the key figures of the folk-revival of that time, including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Mavis Staples, and Janis Joplin.


Odetta was born in Birmingham, Alabama, grew up in Los Angeles, California, attended Belmont High School, and studied music at Los Angeles City College while employed as a domestic worker. She had operatic training from the age of 13. Her mother hoped she would follow Marian Anderson, but Odetta doubted a large black girl would ever perform at the Metropolitan Opera.[4] Her first professional experience was in musical theater in 1944, as an ensemble member for four years with the Hollywood Turnabout Puppet Theatre, working alongside Elsa Lanchester; she later joined the national touring company of the musical Finian's Rainbow in 1949.

While on tour with Finian's Rainbow, Odetta "fell in with an enthusiastic group of young balladeers in San Francisco", and after 1950 concentrated on folksinging.[5]

She made her name by playing around the United States: at the Blue Angel nightclub (New York City), the hungry i (San Francisco), and Tin Angel (San Francisco), where she and Larry Mohr recorded Odetta and Larry in 1954, for Fantasy Records.

A solo career followed, with Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues (1956) and At the Gate of Horn (1957). Odetta Sings Folk Songs was one of 1963's best-selling folk albums.

In 1961, Martin Luther King, Jr. anointed her "The Queen of American folk music".[6] In the same year the duo Harry Belafonte and Odetta made #32 in the UK Singles Chart with the song There's a Hole in My Bucket.[7] Many Americans remember her performance at the 1963 civil rights movement's march to Washington where she sang "O Freedom."[8] She considered her involvement in the Civil Rights movement as being "one of the privates in a very big army."[9]

Broadening her musical scope, Odetta used band arrangements on several albums rather than playing alone, and released music of a more "jazz" style music on albums like Odetta and the Blues (1962) and Odetta (1967). She gave a remarkable performance in 1968 at the Woody Guthrie memorial concert and was interviewed by Milton Okun for his compilation of songs Something to Sing About! (New York: Macmillan Co.)

Odetta also acted in several films during this period, including Cinerama Holiday (1955), the film of William Faulkner's Sanctuary (1961) and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974).

Her marriages to Dan Gordon and Gary Shead ended in divorce. Singer-guitarist Louisiana Red was a former companion.[4]


In May 1975 she appeared on public television's Say Brother program, performing "Give Me Your Hand" in the studio, in addition to speaking about her spirituality, the music tradition from which she drew, and her involvement in civil rights struggles.[10]

In 1976, Odetta performed in the U.S. Bicentennial opera "Be Glad Then America" by John LaMontaigne, as the Muse for America; with Donald Gramm, Richard Lewis and the Penn State University Choir and the Pittsburgh Symphony. The production was directed by Sarah Caldwell who was the director of the Opera Company of Boston at the time.

Odetta released only two new albums in the 20-year period from 1977-1997: Movin' It On, in 1987 and a new version of Christmas Spirituals, produced by Rachel Faro, in 1988.

Beginning in 1998, she re-focused her energies on recording and touring and her career took on a major resurgence. The new CD To Ella (recorded live and dedicated to her old friend Ella Fitzgerald upon hearing of her passing before walking on stage), was released in 1998 on Silverwolf Records, followed by three new releases on M.C. Records, which cemented a partnership with pianist/arranger/producer Seth Farber and record producer Mark Carpentieri, including: Blues Everywhere I Go, a 2000 Grammy Nominated blues/jazz band tribute album to the great lady blues singers of the 1920s and 1930s; Looking for a Home, a 2002 W.C. Handy Award nominated band tribute to Lead Belly; and the 2007 Grammy Nominated Gonna Let It Shine, a live album of gospel and spiritual songs supported by Seth Farber and The Holmes Brothers. These new recordings and an active world touring schedule created the demand for her guest star appearance on fourteen new albums of other artists (between 1999 and 2006), and the re-release of forty-five old Odetta albums and compilation appearances.

On September 29, 1999, President Bill Clinton presented Odetta with the National Endowment for the Arts' National Medal of Arts. In 2004, Odetta was honored at the Kennedy Center with the "Visionary Award" along with a tribute performance by Tracy Chapman. In 2005, the Library of Congress honored her with its "Living Legend Award".

The 2005 documentary film No Direction Home, directed by Martin Scorsese, highlights her musical influence on Bob Dylan, the subject of the documentary. The film contains an archive clip of Odetta performing "Waterboy" on TV in 1959, and we also hear Odetta's songs "Mule Skinner Blues" and "No More Auction Block for Me".

In 2006, Odetta opened shows for jazz vocalist Madeleine Peyroux, and in 2006 she toured the US, Canada, and Europe accompanied by her pianist, which included being presented by the US Embassy in Latvia as the keynote speaker at a Human Rights conference, and also in a concert in Riga's historic 1,000 year old Maza Guild Hall. In December, 2006, the Winnipeg Folk Festival honored Odetta with their "Lifetime Achievement Award." In February, 2007, The International Folk Alliance awarded Odetta as "Traditional Folk Artist of the Year."

On March 24, 2007 a tribute concert to Odetta was presented at the Rachel Schlesinger Theatre by the World Folk Music Association with live performance and video tributes by Pete Seeger, Madeleine Peyroux, Harry Belafonte, Janis Ian, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Josh White, Jr., (Josh White#Posthumous honors) Peter, Paul and Mary, Oscar Brand, Tom Rush, Jesse Winchester, Eric Andersen, Wavy Gravy, David Amram, Roger McGuinn, Robert Sims, Carolyn Hester, Donal Leace, Marie Knight, Side by Side, and Laura McGhee (from Scotland).[11]

In 2007, her album Gonna Let It Shine was nominated for a Grammy, and she completed a major Fall Concert Tour in the "Songs of Spirit" show, which included artists from all over the world. She toured around North America in late 2006 and early 2007 to support this CD.[12]


On January 21, 2008, Odetta was the Keynote Speaker at San Diego's Martin Luther King, Jr. commemoration, followed by concert performances in San Diego, Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, and Mill Valley, in addition to being the sole guest for the evening on PBS-TV's The Tavis Smiley Show.

On May 2 and 3, 2008, Odetta headlined the Oberlin College Folk Fest in Oberlin, Ohio, where she spoke about her life at the Cat in the Cream Coffeehouse and gave a concert in Finney Chapel.

Odetta was honored on May 8, 2008 at a historic tribute night,[13] hosted by Wavy Gravy. Fellow musicians David Amram, Guy Davis, Vincent Cross, and Christine Lavin performed; filmmakers D. A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus attended the concert, held at Banjo Jim's in the East Village.

In summer 2008, at the age of 77, she launched another North American tour, with concerts in Albany, New York and other cities, singing strongly and confidently from a wheelchair.[14][15] Her set in recent years included "This Little Light of Mine (I'm Gonna Let It Shine)",[16] Lead Belly's "The Bourgeois Blues",[16][17][18] (Something Inside) So Strong", "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" and "House of the Rising Sun".[15]

She made a special appearance on June 30, 2008 at The Bitter End on Bleecker Street, New York City for a Liam Clancy tribute concert. She opened the show with Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, and finished the first set with a duet with Clancy where they sang Blowin' in the Wind. Her strong voice was very much in evidence during her last solo piece, Something Inside So Strong. The finale saw her onstage with Clancy, Tom Paxton, Shane MacGowan, amongst others.

Her last "big concert," before thousands of people, was in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park on October 4, 2008, for the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival.[19] She last performed at Hugh's Room in Toronto on October 25.[19]

In November 2008, Odetta's health began to decline and she began receiving treatment at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. She had hoped to perform at Barack Obama's inauguration on January 20, 2009[19][20]

On December 2, 2008, Odetta died from heart disease in New York City.[19][21][22]

At her memorial service in February 2009 at Riverside Church in New York City, participants included Maya Angelou, Pete Seeger, Harry Belafonte, Geoffrey Holder, Steve Earle, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Peter Yarrow, Tom Chapin, Josh White, Jr. (son of Josh White), Emory Joseph, Rattlesnake Annie, the Brooklyn Technical High School Chamber Chorus, and videotaped tributes from Tavis Smiley and Joan Baez.[23]


Odetta influenced generations of performers, from Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen.[24]

Harry Belafonte "cited her as a key influence" on his musical career.[19]

Bob Dylan, who said, "The first thing that turned me on to folk singing was Odetta. I heard a record of hers [Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues] in a record store, back when you could listen to records right there in the store. Right then and there, I went out and traded my electric guitar and amplifier for an acoustical guitar, a flat-top Gibson. ... [That album was] just something vital and personal. I learned all the songs on that record. It was her first and the songs were:- "Mule Skinner", Waterboy", Jack of Diamonds", "(I've Been) 'Buked and (I've Been) Scorned".[25]

Joan Baez said "Odetta was a goddess. Her passion moved me. I learned everything she sang."[26]

Janis Joplin - "Janis spent much of her adolescence listening to Odetta, who was also the first person Janis imitated when she started singing".[27]

Thomas Winslow and his daughter Thomasina Winslow, the Blues musicians, heralded her influence to their music.[citation needed]

Poet Maya Angelou once said "If only one could be sure that every 50 years a voice and a soul like Odetta's would come along, the centuries would pass so quickly and painlessly we would hardly recognize time."[28]

John Waters's original screenplay for Hairspray mentions her as an influence on beatniks.[24]

Carly Simon cites Odetta as a major influence, and talks about "going weak in the knees" when she had the opportunity to meet her in Greenwich Village[29]



1^ MC-records.com

2^ Silverwolfmusic.com

3^ Bonnieraitt.com

4^ a b Weil, Martin; Adam Bernstein (4 December 2008). "Odetta: Matriarch for Generation of Folk Singers". The Washington Post: p. B6. Retrieved 2008-12-04.

5^ Odetta biography, 1956: back cover of "Sings Ballads and Blues"

6^ Folk Alley radio - about Odetta

7^ Chartstats.com - Harry Belafonte and Odetta

8^ World mourns passing of Odetta

9^ I'm Gonna Let It Shine

10^ "Odetta Gordon performs "Give Me Your Hand"". WGBH OpenVault. Retrieved 2008-12-03.

11^ Nvcc.edu

12^ Concerted Efforts website Odetta's Itinerary for 2006-2007 Tour web page. Accessed July 21, 2008.[dead link]

13^ Indiesoundsny.typepad.com

14^ Lark Street BID official website Monday Nights in the Park Concert Series web page. Accessed July 21, 2008. Archived June 7, 2008 at the Wayback Machine.

15^ a b Malachowsky, David, "A frail Odetta is strong, sure, confident, Albany Times-Union, found at "Review on Times Union Website". Blogs.timesunion.com. Accessed July 23, 2008.

16^ a b MC Records website. Accessed July 23, 2008.

17^ Youtube.com, Odetta- Bourgeois Blues (2006). Accessed July 23, 2008.

18^ Youtube.com, Odetta Live in concert 2005, "Bourgeois Blues". Accessed July 23, 2008.

19^ a b c d e Weiner, Tim (December 3, 2008). "Odetta, Voice of Civil Rights Movement, Dies at 77". The New York Times (December 3). Retrieved 2008-12-03.

20^ Guardian (UK) article 01 December 2008

21^ International Herald Tribune, 3 December 2008. IHT.com

22^ "US folk icon Odetta dies aged 77". BBC (December 3). December 4, 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-03.

23^ Ryzik, Melena (2009-02-26). "Remembering Odetta, Who Sang of Freedom". New York Times.

24^ a b Nuisance Industry, "Odetta has passed away." Blog, Daily Kos, December 2, 2008, Tribute to Odetta at DailyKos.com. Accessed December 2, 2008

25^ Playboy interview with Bob Dylan, March 1978

26^ Loder, Kurt (1983). "Joan Baez: The Rolling Stone Interview". Rolling Stone 4/14/83 (issue # 393)

27^ Janisjoplin.net - page about Odetta's influence on Janis Joplin

28^ Maya Angelou, Concerted Efforts.

29^ Sheila Weller, Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon--And the Journey of a Generation, n.d.

30^ IMDb.com

31^ IMDb.com

32^ IMDb.com

33^ IMDb.com

34^ IMDb.com

35^ IMDb.com

36^ IMDb.com

37^ IMDb.com

38^ IMDb.com

39^ IMDb.com

40^ IMDb.com

41^ IMDb.com

42^ BBC Four Programmes: Odetta Remembers 23 February 2009

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odetta



Discography: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odetta_discography




ObituaryOdetta Gordon

December 30, 1930 - December 02, 2008

NEW YORK (AP) – Odetta, the folk singer with the powerful voice who moved audiences and influenced fellow musicians for a half-century, has died. She was 77.
Odetta died Tuesday of heart disease at Lenox Hill Hospital, said her manager of 12 years, Doug Yeager. She was admitted to the hospital with kidney failure about three weeks ago, he said.
In spite of failing health that caused her to use a wheelchair, Odetta performed 60 concerts in the last two years, singing for 90 minutes at a time. Her singing ability never diminished, Yeager said.
"The power would just come out of her like people wouldn't believe," he said.
With her booming, classically trained voice and spare guitar, Odetta gave life to the songs by workingmen and slaves, farmers and miners, housewives and washerwomen, blacks and whites.
First coming to prominence in the 1950s, she influenced Harry Belafonte, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and other singers who had roots in the folk music boom.
An Odetta record on the turntable, listeners could close their eyes and imagine themselves hearing the sounds of spirituals and blues as they rang out from a weathered back porch or around a long-vanished campfire a century before.
"What distinguished her from the start was the meticulous care with which she tried to re-create the feeling of her folk songs; to understand the emotions of a convict in a convict ditty, she once tried breaking up rocks with a sledge hammer," Time magazine wrote in 1960.
"She is a keening Irishwoman in 'Foggy Dew,' a chain-gang convict in 'Take This Hammer,' a deserted lover in 'Lass from the Low Country,'" Time wrote.
Odetta called on her fellow blacks to "take pride in the history of the American Negro" and was active in the civil rights movement. When she sang at the March on Washington in August 1963, "Odetta's great, full-throated voice carried almost to Capitol Hill," The New York Times wrote.
She was nominated for a 1963 Grammy awards for best folk recording for "Odetta Sings Folk Songs." Two more Grammy nominations came in recent years, for her 1999 "Blues Everywhere I Go" and her 2005 album "Gonna Let It Shine."
In 1999, she was honored with a National Medal of the Arts. Then-President Bill Clinton said her career showed "us all that songs have the power to change the heart and change the world."
"I'm not a real folksinger," she told The Washington Post in 1983. "I don't mind people calling me that, but I'm a musical historian. I'm a city kid who has admired an area and who got into it. I've been fortunate. With folk music, I can do my teaching and preaching, my propagandizing."
Among her notable early works were her 1956 album "Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues," which included such songs as "Muleskinner Blues" and "Jack O' Diamonds"; and her 1957 "At the Gate of Horn," which featured the popular spiritual "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands. "
Her 1965 album "Odetta Sings Dylan" included such standards as "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," ''Masters of War" and "The Times They Are A-Changin'."
In a 1978 Playboy interview, Dylan said, "the first thing that turned me on to folk singing was Odetta." He said he found "just something vital and personal" when he heard an early album of hers in a record store as a teenager. "Right then and there, I went out and traded my electric guitar and amplifier for an acoustical guitar," he said.
Belafonte also cited her as a key influence on his hugely successful recording career, and she was a guest singer on his 1960 album, "Belafonte Returns to Carnegie Hall."
She continued to record in recent years; her 2001 album "Looking for a Home (Thanks to Leadbelly)" paid tribute to the great blues singer to whom she was sometimes compared.
Odetta's last big concert was on Oct. 4 at San Francisco's Golden State Park, where she performed in front of tens of thousands at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival, Yeager said. She also performed Oct. 25-26 in Toronto.
Odetta hoped to sing at the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama, though she had not been officially invited, Yeager said.
Born Odetta Holmes in Birmingham, Ala., in 1930, she moved with her family to Los Angeles at age 6. Her father had died when she was young and she took her stepfather's last name, Felious. Hearing her in glee club, a junior high teacher made sure she got music lessons, but Odetta became interested in folk music in her late teens and turned away from classical studies.
She got much of her early experience at the Turnabout Theatre in Los Angeles, where she sang and played occasional stage roles in the early 1950s.
"What power of characterization and projection of mood are hers, even though plainly clad and sitting or standing in half light!" a Los Angeles Times critic wrote in 1955.
Over the years, she picked up occasional acting roles in TV and film. None other than famed Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper reported in 1961 that she "comes through beautifully" in the film "Sanctuary."
In the Washington Post interview, Odetta theorized that humans developed music and dance because of fear, "fear of God, fear that the sun would not come back, many things. I think it developed as a way of worship or to appease something. ... The world hasn't improved, and so there's always something to sing about."
Odetta is survived by a daughter, Michelle Esrick of New York City, and a son, Boots Jaffre, of Fort Collins, Colo. She was divorced about 40 years ago and never remarried, her manager said.
A memorial service was planned for next month, Yeager said.
Copyright © 2008 The Associated Press
Source: http://memorialwebsites.legacy.com/Odetta/Homepage.aspx




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