Odetta may not be as much a household name as Bob Dylan – but it was she who inspired him to pick up an acoustic guitar and sing folk music. She might not have the folk-music fame of Joan Baez, but Baez called her a goddess. Carly Simon may have been the bigger star, but she said she went weak in the knees when she had a chance to meet Odetta.
Odetta began singing folk music in 1950, when the American folk music revival was young. By 1956, she had released her first solo album, Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues. It was the album that changed Bob Dylan's career path – he heard it in a record store and was deeply moved.
As her career continued, Odetta began to be noticed. She performed with Harry Belafonte and acted in movies, and she was praised by names as big as Martin Luther King Jr., who called her the "Queen of American folk music." She solidified that reputation with 1963's Odetta Sings Folk Songs.
In 1965, Odetta performed a turnabout – recording an album of songs written by one of the singers she so inspired. Her rich voice lent new depths to the songs on Odetta Sings Dylan.
Three years after Odetta's death, she may not be the most famous folk singer of them all… but she paved the way for many of the genre's greats. Her music and her influence won't be forgotten.
Written by Linnea Crowther