ODETTA

Musician

ODETTA (nee Odetta Homes), born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1930 was one of the most influential artist/activists of the 20th Century.  Before Odetta, no solo woman performer (let alone an African American woman) had toured the world singing folk, blues, Negro spirituals, work songs and protest songs while telling the stories of America's traumatic southern experience.   Her 1950s and 60s classic recordings of "He's Got The Whole World In His Hands," “Sometimes I Fell Like a Motherless Child,” "Kumbaya," "Goodnight Irene,"  "Amazing Grace," “Oh Freedom” and "This Little Light of Mine," became folk and spiritual classics throughout the world and inspired an entire generation.  

Odetta introduced Bob Dylan to folk music, and in her 60 year career, she influenced hundreds of other artists, including Janis Joplin, Harry Belafonte, Joan Baez, Carly Simon, Sweet Honey in the Rock and Tracy Chapman.  As a civil rights pioneer, Odetta marched in Selma, sang for President Kennedy, and her voice gave spirit to the masses at the 1963 March on Washington, as  Martin Luther King, Jr. anointed her "Queen of American Folk Music."   When Rosa Parks was asked in her biography what songs she listened to during the civil rights struggle, she responded, “Essentially all the songs of Odetta.”  When President Clinton honored her at the White House with the National Medal of Arts and Humanities, he remarked, "Odetta reminds us all that songs have the power to change the heart and change the world;" and  Maya Angelou, Odetta's friend of fifty-five years, would later write, "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."  Despite battling crippling heart disease and pulmonary fibrosis the last decade of her life, Odetta continued performing around the world until her final passing on December 2, 2008.  The headline of her New York Times’ front page obituary, read: ODETTA, Voice of the Civil Rights Movement, Dies at 77.   

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