Remembering Odetta
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NEW YORK (AP) – Odetta, the folk singer with the powerful voice who moved audiences and influenced fellow musicians for a half-century, has died. She was 77.

Odetta died Tuesday of heart disease at Lenox Hill Hospital, said her manager of 12 years, Doug Yeager. She was admitted to the hospital with kidney failure about three weeks ago, he said.

In spite of failing health that caused her to use a wheelchair, Odetta performed 60 concerts in the last two years, singing for 90 minutes at a time. Her singing ability never diminished, Yeager said.

"The power would just come out of her like people wouldn't believe," he said.

With her booming, classically trained voice and spare guitar, Odetta gave life to the songs by workingmen and slaves, farmers and miners, housewives and washerwomen, blacks and whites.

First coming to prominence in the 1950s, she influenced Harry Belafonte, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and other singers who had roots in the folk music boom.

An Odetta record on the turntable, listeners could close their eyes and imagine themselves hearing the sounds of spirituals and blues as they rang out from a weathered back porch or around a long-vanished campfire a century before.

"What distinguished her from the start was the meticulous care with which she tried to re-create the feeling of her folk songs; to understand the emotions of a convict in a convict ditty, she once tried breaking up rocks with a sledge hammer," Time magazine wrote in 1960.

"She is a keening Irishwoman in 'Foggy Dew,' a chain-gang convict in 'Take This Hammer,' a deserted lover in 'Lass from the Low Country,'" Time wrote.

Odetta called on her fellow blacks to "take pride in the history of the American Negro" and was active in the civil rights movement. When she sang at the March on Washington in August 1963, "Odetta's great, full-throated voice carried almost to Capitol Hill," The New York Times wrote.

She was nominated for a 1963 Grammy awards for best folk recording for "Odetta Sings Folk Songs." Two more Grammy nominations came in recent years, for her 1999 "Blues Everywhere I Go" and her 2005 album "Gonna Let It Shine."

In 1999, she was honored with a National Medal of the Arts. Then-President Bill Clinton said her career showed "us all that songs have the power to change the heart and change the world."

"I'm not a real folksinger," she told The Washington Post in 1983. "I don't mind people calling me that, but I'm a musical historian. I'm a city kid who has admired an area and who got into it. I've been fortunate. With folk music, I can do my teaching and preaching, my propagandizing."

Among her notable early works were her 1956 album "Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues," which included such songs as "Muleskinner Blues" and "Jack O' Diamonds"; and her 1957 "At the Gate of Horn," which featured the popular spiritual "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands. "

Her 1965 album "Odetta Sings Dylan" included such standards as "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," ''Masters of War" and "The Times They Are A-Changin'."

In a 1978 Playboy interview, Dylan said, "the first thing that turned me on to folk singing was Odetta." He said he found "just something vital and personal" when he heard an early album of hers in a record store as a teenager. "Right then and there, I went out and traded my electric guitar and amplifier for an acoustical guitar," he said.

Belafonte also cited her as a key influence on his hugely successful recording career, and she was a guest singer on his 1960 album, "Belafonte Returns to Carnegie Hall."

She continued to record in recent years; her 2001 album "Looking for a Home (Thanks to Leadbelly)" paid tribute to the great blues singer to whom she was sometimes compared.

Odetta's last big concert was on Oct. 4 at San Francisco's Golden State Park, where she performed in front of tens of thousands at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival, Yeager said. She also performed Oct. 25-26 in Toronto.

Odetta hoped to sing at the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama, though she had not been officially invited, Yeager said.

Born Odetta Holmes in Birmingham, Ala., in 1930, she moved with her family to Los Angeles at age 6. Her father had died when she was young and she took her stepfather's last name, Felious. Hearing her in glee club, a junior high teacher made sure she got music lessons, but Odetta became interested in folk music in her late teens and turned away from classical studies.

She got much of her early experience at the Turnabout Theatre in Los Angeles, where she sang and played occasional stage roles in the early 1950s.

"What power of characterization and projection of mood are hers, even though plainly clad and sitting or standing in half light!" a Los Angeles Times critic wrote in 1955.

Over the years, she picked up occasional acting roles in TV and film. None other than famed Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper reported in 1961 that she "comes through beautifully" in the film "Sanctuary."

In the Washington Post interview, Odetta theorized that humans developed music and dance because of fear, "fear of God, fear that the sun would not come back, many things. I think it developed as a way of worship or to appease something. ... The world hasn't improved, and so there's always something to sing about."

Odetta is survived by a daughter, Michelle Esrick of New York City, and a son, Boots Jaffre, of Fort Collins, Colo. She was divorced about 40 years ago and never remarried, her manager said.

A memorial service was planned for next month, Yeager said.

Copyright © 2008 The Associated Press
Published in New York Times on Dec. 3, 2008.
Memories & Condolences
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75 entries
May 4, 2017
Folk and blues singer, ODETTA combined both when telling her stories of struggles. She inspired so many folks with her uniqueness and her many concerts all over the country. Thanks for giving a voice to those who were afraid to participate to make a change.....PRAYERS and BLESSINGS
Valenda Newell
March 20, 2017
July 30, 2013
We became friends in the late 1960's and remained so until her passing. Everything about her enriched my life. You were always "on" in her presence as she stuck to her principles and helped others be true to theirs. She had a big heart, incredible depth and immeasurable courage. She backed down before no one and led others fearlessly. On one occasion I watched her face down a packed New York nightclub on another I heard her sing at a sold out concert where there was not a dry eye in the house. May God bless her and be always with her.
Jehu Martin
June 14, 2012
July 1, 2010
Odetta & Doria Roberts after Knitting Factory Show NYC 2003 (c) Sarah B. Foster
Doria Roberts
April 1, 2010
For Odetta...Your powerful voice
is still heard in great respect
by music lovers of all kind.


Do not weep for me when I no longer dwell among the wonders of the earth; for my larger self is free, and my soul rejoices on the other side of pain...on the other side of darkness.

Do not weep for me, for I am a ray of sunshine that touches your skin, a tropical breeze upon your face, the hush of joy within your heart and the innocence of babes in mothers arms.

I am the hope in a darkened night. And, in your hour of need, I will be there to comfort you. I will share your tears, your joys, your fears, your disappointments and your triumphs.

Do not weep for me, for I am cradled
in the arms of God. I walk with the angels, and hear the music beyond the stars.

Do not weep for me, for I am within you;
I am peace, love, I am a soft wind that caresses the flowers. I am the calm that follows a raging storm. I am an autumns leaf that floats among the garden of God, and I am pure white snow that softly falls upon your hand.

Do not weep for me, for I shall never die, as long as you remember me...
with a smile and a sigh.

© Joe Fazio
~ /Joe Fazio,
Beverly Hills, California
January 21, 2010
Jan Ford
Auntie Odetta was a beatiful soul. I love her and miss her greatly. She's now rest with her mother and sister
Jan Ford
January 16, 2010
I am grateful for all she gave and inspired. She was a torch from which many candles were lit. May your grieving be peaceful and healing.
May 19, 2009
Odetta was forever a friend. we did not see or talk much but whenever we did it was as if no time had lapsed. Her friends in Halifax, nova scotia Canada will truly miss her.
joan jones
April 22, 2009
I had read about her music long before I heard her on TV in the mid-sixties singing "Follow the Drinking Gourd." Her powerful voice made a statement for the times, and I sat up and listened. We have all lost someone important here.
Jakki Horan
March 1, 2009
I never knew Odetta; I'm just one of her many fans. I grew up in awe of her music and undeniable power. She was and always will be an American icon of truth, spirit and human dignity. I feel both, blessed and humbled, when I listen to her music. God Bless you, Odetta Gordon.
Cheryl Luteman
January 6, 2009
Sorry about your lost. I didn't know Miss Odetta but I heard her on the blues divas and I fell in love with her music.I believe shes singing for Jesus.Yes she will be miss. [Annette Faulkner] Knoxville Tennessee
Annete Faulkner
December 31, 2008
I am very, very sad that I am here without you except on albums.
Rich Sinc
December 30, 2008
During the turbulent Civil Rights battles of the 1960s, we in the movement were inspired by her spirit, beauty and artistry. I will miss her and offer my heartfelt condolences to her family and loved ones.
Solomon Herbert
December 20, 2008
a true legend rest in peace thankyou for your music love G
graham spencer
December 13, 2008
Miss Odetta was my teacher mentor and irreplaceable friend for over 30 years. What a privilege. My forever gratitude. Blessings on your way, O.
Susan Osborn
December 10, 2008
A legend gone home
December 9, 2008
Condolences from Norris Bennett, who does not have a computer, provided by a friend of his.
maddy de leon
December 8, 2008
#1 FAN
December 8, 2008
My thoughts and prayers are with you in your time of grief. May your memories bring you comfort.
December 6, 2008
Her Light will Shine Forever
David Shearer
December 6, 2008
"For God so loved the world that he gave His only beggoten son that all those exercising faith in him might not be destoyed but have everlasting life." John 3:16
God loved us that HE gave His Son to die for obedient mankind!!
December 6, 2008
Our condolences go out to the family and friends of Odetta in the time of your loss. She lived a full life may the God of all comfort be with you.(Revelation 21:3,4)
P,C Stewart
December 5, 2008
God bless the life of this wonderful lady. She was a great friend of my Aunt Almeta Speaks.
Cheryl JOhnson
December 5, 2008
May God hold Ms. Odetta in His memory and bless the family she left behind. Psalms 83:18
December 5, 2008
janet rivers
December 5, 2008
To the Family of Odetta: I know you will miss her dearly. One of the Creator's precious gifts to man, is the gift and talent for melody and the art of expressing all one's emotions in music and song. May the God of all comfort be with you and your family. 2 Corinthians 1:3.4
O. Cooper
December 5, 2008
Some of these mornings bright and fair
Take my wings and cleave the air
Pharaoh's army got drowned
O Mary, don't you weep

When I get to heaven goin' to sing and shout
Nobody there for turn me out
Pharaoh's army got drowned
O Mary don't you weep
December 5, 2008
A message of sympathy for the family,of(Odetta)may the love you share as a family be your strength,and may it help to know that there are caring hearts who share in your sorrow and so sorry for your loss,she will be miss.P.O.Box 15724,
Mr&Mrs.Welton&Jera Brown&Girls.
December 4, 2008
Dear Family:

We thank God and you, the family, for sharing this very special lady with the world for so many years.

I saw Odetta on a TV program just a few months ago. I thought to myself..."what an amazing and gifted performer." The more she sang; the more you wanted to hear her. She sang with such deep emotion that one could actually experience exactly what she was singing about.

Her beautiful smile and laughter, her wisdom and knowledge about life, her ability to speak and literally bring you into the moment was a very special gift. We loved Odetta.

We share your grief and sorrow but remember, "As long as you have just one day of memories...your mom will always be in your heart."

We pray for peace and comfort.
Janice Brown
December 4, 2008
Condolences to your family. You fought the good battle, so now rest in peace. C. Stewart
Detroit, Michigan
Charlotte Stewart
December 4, 2008
Now there is a hole in my bucket! Very sad to hear of Odetta's passing.
Cindy Easterly
December 4, 2008
Steven Jackson
December 4, 2008
To The Family of Odetta,

May you find peace and comfort from the Bible at your time of grief. (Revelation 21:4)
M Reed
December 4, 2008
Richard H. Herrick
December 4, 2008
Rest in Peace and may God watch over your family.
Agusta LuJan
December 4, 2008
Odetta's last large venue performance, San Francisco, 10-4-08; copyright RRosano
December 4, 2008
Condolences to the family. We have many of Odetta's records and will treasure them even more. She was a great person, artist and, of course, child of God called home. We live in Odetta's home city/state of Birmingham, Alabama, and had the opportunity to see her perform in one of Birmingham City Stages' concerts. At that event, we took a couple of pictures with her and will treasure them as well. May God Be With The Family!
Don & Stein Jones
December 4, 2008
Take comfort in knowing that now you have a special guardian angel to watch over you.
December 4, 2008
No bond is as great as that between a parent and child. My deepest condolences are with you as you grieve.
annie brim
December 4, 2008
Take comfort in knowing that now you have a special guardian angel to watch over you.
annie brim
December 4, 2008
You are in my thoughts and prayers.
Lonell Richardson
December 4, 2008
To all Odetta friend and family:
Please accept my family deepest sympathy for the loss of Odetta. It is so difficult to lose someone you love. I lose my father in 1999, what got me through this difficult time was God's hope for our love ones. Revelation 21:3,4 say that soon God will do away with pain, suffering and death.Then what is written at John 5:28,29 will take place. It says there is going to be a resurrection. During this time, we have the hope of seeing our loved again. I have often found comfort from reflecting on God's word and sincerely hope this thought will bring comfort and hope to your family.
December 4, 2008
My sincere condloence goes out to you and your family rest in peace.
December 4, 2008
I am so very sorry to hear of Odetta's passing. I know this must be very hard time for you but please find comfort in God's promise to bring an end to death forever.

(Revelation 21:4) And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.”
December 4, 2008
To my dearest family, some things I'd like to say...
but first of all, to let you know, that I arrived okay.
I'm writing this from heaven. Here I dwell with God above.
Here, there's no more tears of sadness; here is just eternal love.

Please do not be unhappy just because I'm out of sight.
Remember that I'm with you every morning, noon and night.
That day I had to leave you when my life on earth was through,
God picked me up and hugged me and He said, "I welcome you."

It's good to have you back again; you were missed while you were gone.
As for your dearest family, they'll be here later on.
I need you here badly; you're part of my plan.
There's so much that we have to do, to help our mortal man.

God gave me a list of things, that he wished for me to do.
And foremost on the list, was to watch and care for you.
And when you lie in bed at night, the day's chores put to flight.
God and I are closest to the middle of the night.

When you think of my life on earth, and all those loving years
because you are only human, they are bound to bring you tears.
But do not be afraid to cry; it does relieve the pain.
Remember there would be no flowers, unless there was some rain.

I wish that I could tell you all that God has planned.
But if I were to tell you, you wouldn't understand.
But one thing is for certain, though my life on earth is o'er.
I'm closer to you now, than I ever was before.

There are many rocky roads ahead of you and many hills to climb;
but together we can do it by taking one day at a time.
It was always my philosophy and I'd like it for you too...
that as you give unto the world, the world will give to you.

If you can help somebody who's in sorrow and pain,
then you can say to God at night......"My day was not in vain."
And now I am contented....that my life has been worthwhile,
knowing as I passed along the way, I made somebody smile.

So if you meet somebody who is sad and feeling low,
just lend a hand to pick him up, as on your way you go.
When you're walking down the street, and you've got me on your mind;
I'm walking in your footsteps only half a step behind.

And when it's time for you to go.... from that body to be free,
remember you're not're coming here to me.

Ruth Ann Mahaffey (author)
©Copyright 1998-2008

December 4, 2008
She was an influence of some music legends, she will be remembered for her works. rest in peace Odetta and God bless.
louis larwell
December 4, 2008
Rest in Peace Odetta.
Sheila Smith
December 4, 2008
Rest in peace.
Henryk Zaleski
December 4, 2008
Ms. Odetta, Kenny Milton @ Pearl Brewing Co. introduced me to your music soul, and I owe you and Kenny for an eye opening experience. So Long Maa'm.
John F. Donaho
December 4, 2008
Your work is finished here since you've learned what you were sent here to learn and experience, helped others learn and paid your dues. Those of us still here will miss you, but we know you've gone on to a better place. We'll be with you when our time comes.

Verlean Taylor (Flushing, NY)
Verlean Taylor
December 4, 2008
Ms. Odetta possessed such an eloquent and graceful spirit that radiated in her music and life. I thoroughly enjoyed her interview with Tavis Smiley on January 25, 2008. It is an honor for me to know that she lived. Her life is that of inspiration. I have been inspired!
Tonya Chandler
December 3, 2008
God needed Odetta's beautiful voice in His Heavenly Choir, so He called her home. I look forward to hearing her again when I go home. Rest in Peace Beautiful Lady.
Joyce Barnes
December 3, 2008
How wonderful to have heard you at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass this past fall. May you rest in peace.
December 3, 2008
Odetta was an incomparable legend, she will long be remembered. The angels must be singing along with her in the spirit world. Richard Queener, Knoxville Tenn
Richard Queener
December 3, 2008
Rest in peace, dear Odetta! I've been listening to you since I was a teenager. No one could sing the blues like you. Thank you for blessing us with your talent.
Carol Tensen
December 3, 2008
December 3, 2008
Rest in Peace.
Mary Bracy Patterson
December 3, 2008
I see a new a rising for a new historical format for a great movie, for a great african movie director,such as Mr. Tyler Perry or Queen Latifa. I also see Queen Latifa, bringing Miss Odetta's life to the big screen, as a actress projecting her true life for the history to continue on for all to see and possible get to know her as a very important african historian figure as she should be known to all race and generation now and for the future to come. so we all can keep her in our memories forever. I hope her soul rest in peace.
Geraldine Perry
December 3, 2008
you will be missed but certainly never forgotten - thanks for all you contributed to make our lives here better
carole varnadoe
December 3, 2008
Been loving her work for years and years.
Dee Sheppard
December 3, 2008
She dared to be an African American long before it became a fashion statement. She and Makeba both were role models for me. Many blessings to you both.
Leona Spivey
December 3, 2008
Kevin Alexander Gray
Peace be with your spirit my big sister. See you in the by and by.
Kevin Alexander Gray
December 3, 2008
You were simply, "the BEST".
Rest In Peace....

Micheal L. Nesbitt
Micheal L. Nesbitt
December 3, 2008
I first heard Odetta sing on "A Prairie Home Companion" National Public Radio (NPR). She sang a duet with Garrison Keillor and I fell in love with her voice. This was about 6 years ago.

I will keep her family in my thoughts and prayers.

Rest In Peace, Odetta!
Beverly Watkins
December 3, 2008
Her voice gave me courage! Rest in peace dear queen.
Mo Galloway
December 3, 2008
December 3, 2008
A booming voice of will be missed!
jamie atkinson
December 3, 2008
My parents raised me on Odetta, whose beauty shines brightly in every note. One of my favorite questions will always be, "why can't a cow have kittens? Why, why, why?" We are all better for having heard her sing.
December 3, 2008
Odetta is the Voice of our generation---she is the heart and soul of all of us--she will live on in our hearts forever.
sheridan mayer
December 3, 2008
Michele Grimes
December 3, 2008
May you rest in "Sweet Peace"
R. Squire
December 3, 2008
Rest in peace.May God Bless You And Keep You.You have lived and had a beautiful life and career.You have laid the foundation for so many others beyond what could be imagined.I love you dearly.Ms.Odetta.
Joyce Jones
December 3, 2008
I first heard Odetta on our album of the Newport Folk Festival and I've loved her voice and spirit ever since. What a powerful, emotion-filled voice. She is part of the soul of the civil rights movement, and I'm so glad she lived to see a Black American in the White House. I will miss her but her voice will live on.
Vicky Munro
December 3, 2008
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