Odetta, "Queen Of American Folk Music," Dead At 77

Illustration for article titled Odetta, Queen Of American Folk Music, Dead At 77

Odetta, the singer whom Rosa Parks adored and Martin Luther King Jr. called the queen of American folk music, died yesterday at the age of 77. She was, by all accounts, a legend, with a powerful voice, and the prison songs and work songs of the Deep South shaped her life. Odetta sang at the march on Washington in August of 1963. Her song that day was "O Freedom," dating to slavery days. From The New York Times:

"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." […]

Odetta marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and performed for President John F. Kennedy. Bill Clinton awarded her the National Endowment for the Arts Medal of the Arts and Humanities. She sang and performed well into the 21st century, and her influence stayed strong, and one critic called her voice a "force of nature."

Time magazine's Richard Corliss writes: "During the folk boom, each Odetta gig, in coffee house or a concert hall, was a master class of work songs, folk songs, church songs, and an eloquent tutorial in raw American history. Identifiable from the first syllable, her voice fused the thrill of gospel, the techniques of art song, — the wisdom that subtlety sometimes trumps volume — and the desperate wail of blues." Bob Dylan credited her first solo record in 1956, Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues, as "the first thing that turned me on to folk singing… [It] was just something vital and personal."



Odetta, Voice Of Civil Rights Movement, Dies At 77 [NY Times]
Odetta: Soul-Stirrer, 1930-2008 [Time]
American Folk Music Legend Odetta Dies At 77 [USA Today, via AP]
Odetta, 77; Sang the Soundtrack For The Civil Rights Movement [Washington Post]

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Heard this this morning on Morning Edition. They played a piece from an interview with her in 2005 (if I remember correctly), and at the end she sang the first stanza from "Amazing Grace" and I just about drove off the Parkway I was crying so hard. R.I.P, Odetta.