Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Brief Memorial for Odetta

A great singer passed away on Tuesday—Odetta, a huge force in both the folk music & civil rights movements. The New York Times obituary can be viewed here.

Odetta sang with one of the most moving & beautiful voices I’ve ever heard. Her range spanned octaves—but more than that, she sang with passion & an emotional honesty that could really give a listener the chills—I certainly got the chills from her versions of songs like “No More Cane on the Brazos,” “I’ve Been ‘Buked & I’ve Been Scorned,” “Wade in the Water,” “O Freedom,” & many others. She was a central force among the folkies—she’s credited with helping start a number of music careers, including Dave Van Ronk, Bob Dylan, & much later, Tracy Chapman. The Washington Post’s obituary (fittingly titled, “Odetta, 77; Sang the Soundtrack for the Civil Rights Movement”) quotes Pete Seeger as saying, “"She was one of the great singers of late-20th-century America. She sang straight, no tricks." A moving quote from the Times’ obituary: “Rosa Parks, the woman who started the boycott of segregated buses in Montgomery, Ala., was once asked which songs meant the most to her. She replied, ‘All of the songs Odetta sings.’”

Music can be wonderful entertainment, both for those who listen & for those who play. Odetta proved music can be something a lot more, too.

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