Remembering Odetta

I don’t usually do celebrity obituaries on this blog, but I want to make an exception for the folk musician Odetta who died yesterday at the age of 77.  She was a talented musician with a powerful voice and amazing guitar skills.  I call her a “folk musician” but she adeptly performed and interpreted all types of music — blues, jazz, spirituals, and folk ballads from all over the world.  It’s quite impressive to hear a black woman sing The Foggy Dew, a song about the Irish rebellion.  Like other artists of the Folk Song Revival of the 50’s & 60’s, Odetta dedicated her efforts to the Civil Rights movement and other positive social change.

Just watch this clip below of Odetta singing and strumming “Water Boy” and try not to be blown away.  I dare you.

I first became acquainted with Odetta through a boxed set of LP’s that my mother owned called Folk Song and Minstrelsy, which despite the odd name was a collection of artists of the Folk Revival.  One entire record of the four-disc set was dedicated to Odetta songs.  I’m particularly fond of “No More Cane on the Brazos” which demonstrates Odetta unique guitar skills.

On March 18, 2000 I saw her perform at Club Passim in Cambridge.  I particularly remember her standing in the middle of the audience singing a cappella, her voice filling the room.  I also remember that Susan & I were the youngest people there who weren’t brought along by our parents.  After the show, I spoke with Odetta and she noticed the age discrepancy.  I told her about listening to my mother’s record and she responded:

“Ah, propaganda!”

That night I bought a copy of her album To Ella (dedicated to Ella Fitzgerald, and do I ever wish I saw her perform when I had the chance).  Odetta signed it:

“To Liam —
Go Well —
Stay Well —