This is a music video of Odetta. Live in concert 2005, singing “House of the Rising Sun”.
From the International Herald Tribune:
Odetta, voice of American civil rights movement, dies at 77
By Tim Weiner
Published: December 3, 2008
The cause was heart disease, said her manager, Doug Yeager.
He added that she had been hoping to sing at Barack Obama‘s inauguration.
Odetta — she was born Odetta Holmes — sang at coffeehouses and Carnegie Hall and released several albums, becoming one of the most widely known and influential folk-music artists of the 1950s and 60s.
Her voice was an accompaniment to the black-and-white images of the freedom marchers who walked the roads of Alabama and Mississippi and the boulevards of Washington in quest of an end to racial discrimination.
Rosa Parks, the woman who started the boycott of segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama, was once asked which songs meant the most to her. She replied, “All of the songs Odetta sings.”
Born in Birmingham on Dec. 31, 1930, Odetta Holmes spent her first six years in the depths of the Depression. The music of that time and place — in particular prison song 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.”
Her father, Reuben Holmes, died when she was young; she and her mother, Flora Sanders, who later remarried, moved to Los Angeles in 1937. Three years later, Odetta discovered she could sing. …
“The first thing that turned me on to folk singing was Odetta”, Bob Dylan said, referring to that record, in a 1978 interview with Playboy. He said he heard “something vital and personal. I learned all the songs on that record.” It was her first, and the songs were “Mule Skinner”, “Jack of Diamonds”, “Water Boy”, “Buked and Scorned”.
Her blues and spirituals led directly to her work for the civil rights movement. They were two rivers running together, she said in her interview with The Times. The words and music captured “the fury and frustration that I had growing up.” They were heard by the people who were present at the creation of the civil rights movement, people who “heard on the grapevine about this lady who was singing these songs.” She played countless benefits; the money she raised underwrote the work of keeping the movement alive.
Her fame hit a peak in 1963, when she marched with Martin Luther King in Selma and performed for President John F. Kennedy. But after King was assassinated in 1968, the wind went out of the sails of the civil-rights movement and the songs of protest and resistance that had been the movement’s soundtrack. Odetta’s fame flagged for years thereafter. She recorded fewer records, although she performed on stage as a singer and an actor, during the 1970s and 1980s. She revived her career in the 1990s, and thereafter appeared regularly on “A Prairie Home Companion,” the popular public-radio show. In 1999 she recorded her first album in 14 years, and that year President Bill Clinton awarded her the National Endowment for the Arts Medal of the Arts and Humanities from. In 2003 she received a “Living Legend” tribute from the Library of Congress and the Kennedy Center Visionary Award. …
In April 2007, half a century after Dylan heard her, she was onstage at a Carnegie Hall tribute to Bruce Springsteen. She turned one of his songs, “57 Channels”, into a chanted poem, and Springsteen came out from the wings to call it “the greatest version” of the song he had ever heard.
Odetta interview: here.
Odetta lyrics: here.
Carly Simon on Odetta: here.
The deaths of singers Miriam Makeba and Odetta: here.
- Remembering Odetta (manwithoutqualities.com)
- African American fight for freedom on display at civil rights exhibit – The Washington Post (emotanafricana.com)
- Remembering Janis Joplin: Some Classic Live Performances and Previews of a New Joplin Musical “One Night With Janis Joplin” (bluesyemre.com)