Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Odetta, Rest In Peace


Odetta, widely honored as the "Voice of the Civil Rights Movement" died yesterday, age 77. When I was a kid infatuated with Bob Dylan and Joan Baez I looked for their roots in the blues and found Odetta. I booked her to play at my college and was blown away by the authenticity.
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.”

She never had anything like what you would call a hit but her version of this Lead Belly song was something everyone loved around my campus, well, not the Young Republicans, but everyone else.



At 12:17 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

So sorry for your loss, Howie.

At 1:47 PM, Blogger Muffin Dog Press said...

I was fortunate to meet the great lady twice, once when I was in grad school in journalism and interviewed her for a newspaper I worked for at the time in Athens, Georgia. She played to a small audience at the Great Southeast Music Fair in nearby Atlanta--silly fools who didn't know who she was!--and spoke with me for at least half an hour after the performance, and posed for some incredible photos taken by a photography grad student who came along for the ride.
A few years later, a minister I knew in the Hudson Valley, where I had moved, knew Odetta personally and booked her for a concert in his church. We had a grand talk after that, too.
I am grateful for having met her. I cannot imagine anyone with her voice and sensibilities being as kind as she was to a young journalist all those years ago, perhaps at the height of her fame, and certainly her powers. She was one of the truly great musicians of our times, but she was also a magnificent and magnanimous lady.
The universe has shifted, with her wise soul leaving us for someplace else, and I am immensely saddened.

At 12:17 AM, Blogger harpo said...

She was a completely unique cultural icon whose shoes will never be filled. She maintained her integrity and solid character to the end. We were blessed to witness her angelic spirit in our time and midst.


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