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Odetta

One of the strongest voices in the folk revival and the civil rights movement, Odetta was born on New Year's Eve 1930 in Birmingham, AL. By the time she was six years old, she had moved with her younger sister and mother to Los Angeles. She showed a keen interest in music from the time she was a child, and when she was about ten years old, somewhere between church and school, her singing voice was discovered. Odetta's mother began saving money to pay for voice lessons for her, but was advised to wait until her daughter was 13 years old and well into puberty. Thanks to her mother, Odetta began voice lessons when she was 13. She received a classical training, which was interrupted when her mother could no longer afford to pay for the lessons. The puppeteer Harry Burnette interceded and paid for Odetta to continue her voice training.

When she was 19 years old, Odetta landed a role in the Los Angeles production of Finian's Rainbow, which was staged in the summer of 1949 at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. It was during the run of this show that she first heard the blues harmonica master Sonny Terry. The following summer, Odetta was again performing in summer stock in California. This time it was a production of Guys and Dolls, staged in San Francisco. Hanging out in North Beach during her days off, Odetta had her first experience with the growing local folk music scene. Following her summer in San Francisco, Odetta returned to Los Angeles, where she worked as a live-in housekeeper. During this time she performed on a show bill with Paul Robeson.

In 1953, Odetta took some time off from her housecleaning chores to travel to New York City and appear at the famed Blue Angel folk club. Pete Seeger and Harry Belafonte had both taken an interest in her career by this time, and her debut album, The Tin Angel, was released in 1954. From this time forward, Odetta worked to expand her repertoire and make full use of what she has always termed her "instrument." When she began singing, she was considered a coloratura soprano. As she matured, she became more of a mezzo-soprano. Her experience singing folk music led her to discover a vocal range that runs from coloratura to baritone.

Odetta's most productive decade as a recording artist came in the 1960s, when she released 16 albums, including Odetta at Carnegie Hall, Christmas Spirituals, Odetta and the Blues, It's a Mighty World, and Odetta Sings Dylan. In 1999 she released her first studio album in 14 years, Blues Everywhere I Go. On September 29, 1999, President Bill Clinton presented Odetta with the National Endowment for the Arts' Medal of the Arts, a fitting tribute to one of the great treasures of American music.

The next few years found Odetta releasing some new full-length albums, including Livin' with the Blues and a collection of Leadbelly tunes, Looking for a Home. She toured North America, Latvia, and Scotland and was mentioned in Martin Scorsese's 2005 documentary, No Direction Home. That same year Odetta released Gonna Let It Shine, which went on to receive a 2007 Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Folk Album. In December 2008, she died of heart disease in New York. ~ Philip Van Vleck
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Lookin' For A Home

1. Goodnight Irene

2. You Don't Know My Mind

3. Mother's Blues

4. When I Was A Cowboy

5. In The Pines

6. How Long

7. Bourgeois Blues

8. Alabama Bound / Boll Weevil

9. Roberta

10. New Orleans

11. Jim Crow Blues

12. Rock Island Line

14. Easy Rider

15. Midnight Special

x

Track List: Blues Everywhere I Go

1. Blues Everywhere I Go

2. Please Send Me Someone To Love

3. Dink's Blues

4. Unemployment Blues

5. T.B. Blues

6. Trouble Everywhere / I've Been Living With The Blues

7. Can't Afford To Lose My Man

8. Homeless Blues

9. Oh Papa

10. Look The World Over

12. Hear Me Talking To You

13. Rich Man Blues

14. W.P.A. Blues

15. You Gotta Know How

x

Track List: Odetta Sings Dylan

1. Baby, I'm In The Mood For You

2. Long Ago, Far Away

3. Don't Think Twice, It's All Right

4. Tomorrow Is A Long Time

5. Masters Of War

6. Walkin' Down The Line

7. The Times They Are A-Changin'

8. With God On Our Side

11. Blowin' In The Wind

12. Paths Of Victory

x

Track List: Odetta And The Blues

1. Hard, Oh Lord!

2. Believe I'll Go

3. Oh Papa

4. How Long Blues

5. Hogan's Alley

6. Leavin' This Morning

7. Oh My Baby

8. Yonder Comes The Blues

9. Make Me A Pallet On The Floor

10. Weeping Willow Blues

11. Go Down Sunshine

12. Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out

x

Track List: Odetta Sings Ballads And Blues

1. Santy Anno

2. If I Had Ribbon Bow

3. Muleskinner Blues

4. Another Man Done Gone

5. Shame And Scandal

6. Jack O' Diamonds

7. Buked And Scorned

8. Easy Rider

9. Joshua

10. Hound Dog

11. Glory, Glory

12. Alabama Bound

13. Been In The Pen

14. Deep Blue Sea

15. God's Gonna Cut You Down

17. He's Got The whole World In His Hands

18. Take This Hammer

19. Deep River

20. Chilly Winds

x

Track List: Gonna Let It Shine

1. Intro (Live)

2. This Little Light Of Mine (Live)

3. Rise Up Shepherd (Live)

4. Mary Had A Baby (Live)

5. What Month Was Jesus Born In (Live)

6. Shout For Joy (Live)

7. Virgin Mary Had One Son (Live)

8. Down By The Riverside (Live)

9. Poor Little Jesus (Live)

10. Freedom Trilogy: Oh Freedom, Come & Go With Me, I'm On My Way (Live)

11. Somebody Talking 'Bout Jesus (Live)

12. Keep On Movin' It On (Live)

13. O Jerusalem (Live)

14. If Anybody Asks You (Live)

15. Midnight Special (Live)

16. This Little Light Of Mine (Unedited) (Bonus Track) (Live)

Comments

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requiescat in pace* lol
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the best. requiesat in pave.
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mikid54
I had the honor and privilege of traveling on a freedom/folk music concert tour with this great lady in the mid-1960s to Alabama from Georgia. Have loved her as a person and as a great vocal power ever since.
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Odetta at Carnegie Hall is my favorite. I'm Going Back to the Red Clay County for SURE!
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Heard her in Boston, New York City and Tamworth, N.H. Such a wonderfully expressive voice. Powerful memories!
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giffbob
having loved black spirituals, folk, and blues, I was grateful to have discovered Odetta. I wish I had found her sooner!
THANK YOU for Pandora, and the priviledge of being able to hear beauty in what can be an ugly world
Report as inappropriate
singroberta
Odetta had soooo much class.
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I was SO SO Hoping to hear her sing at Barack's inauguration .
Report as inappropriate
mthomas281
Plllllllleee e a a a a a a a s s s e play some Odetta on my 'traditional folk' station. Thanking you in advance, M Thomas
Report as inappropriate
cissie
What an amazing voice and technique, could listen to her all day.

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