Center of the Gold Country, California,
June 24
I suppose you could say I am just one who never was able to do all he wished he could do in a lifetime. I could never be interested in just one thing, but all things. I suppose it is these twilight years where the dawn is coming closer that I occasionally sit down and write a few of my thoughts. Some stay with me, never seen by others and some I post for the world to see. They are varied subjects, for which my mind will focus on for that time. So for now, allow me to indulge.

DECEMBER 4, 2008 1:39PM

Odetta's Passing

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The other morning I opened my email and received from a friend the notice of Odetta had died. I intended to post this that morning but we had problems with our internet.


I had  sent an email a week or so ago to some friends informing them that Odetta had taken ill and was hospitalized and regarding  the hope that Odetta would be well enough to sing at Obama’s inauguration. For her it would have been a crowning moment on for her very rich life.


Odetta was one of two women I saw in concert a month or so apart in Berkeley many years ago. Nina Simone was the other.  Each were solo, each different, each commanded the stage like no one I have ever seen,  powerful woman of color. These performances would leave and indelible impression on this young teenager at that time, an lifelong impression on me that outlived each of those nights.


Many years later I was stage managing a music festival in the early 90’s I was fortunate to spend some time talking with Odetta in her dressing room for an hour. I remembered Odetta’s  powerful voice needing no amplification on that night I first saw her.    I was struck that she was quite short as she appeared to be huge on the stage the night in my youth.  She was gracious host and we spoke of many things as well as Nina Simone that evening.  Nina was one of her best friends.  I came away even more impressed with Odetta.


Below is an obituary of the remarkable woman. I haven't figured out how to imbed a video so will just put a link from You Tube. It is short and notice that young man in the audience, this was probably the look I had when I first saw Odetta.



Look from there at the Related Videos of Odetta


Below is an obituary of the remarkable woman. Also two links that you might wish to visit:






American folk music legend Odetta dies at 77

By POLLY ANDERSON, Associated Press


NEW YORK 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.

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What an amazing woman, and how sad she will not be there to take part in Obama's inauguration. She did have such presence - so obvious in that brief clip, and I can't imagine how much more so in person. Am envious that you had an opportunity to visit with her one on one. I'm embarassed to realize I don't have any of her CDs - will have to fix that! Is there one that you would recommend particularly? Thanks for this post!
How lucky you were to meet her and talk music. As you know, I have a post on this as well. Why don't you add your post link on to mine? You have so much to add.
Thanks for posting this, FM.

Somehow I missed the notice of her death. I think that you certainly have had a richly blessed life in the sense of the many, many artists that you have met, and not meaning going to a concert and getting an autograph. But really knew them and became friends of many. Those memories will always bring lasting pleasure to you, and, from time to time, like now, a tear.

God rest her soul.

I may have some to add but I know so many more who have much, much more to add regarding Odetta. I will respond this morning and link.

Ironically the divorce from my first wife leads me back into my first love, which was music, and music of all kinds. Again as I often say much of my career and experiences has been accidental. It would not be an understatement to say I am structured to be unstructured. In other words I can be very structured when I need to be but not for long, as I pull against the tethers of being organized. I feel if I am to long within a box I know the lid will go on soon and I am claustrophobic in severely confined spaces.

My first wife was a theatre set artist, designer and into Dance. Our divorce was quite amiable and I still admit to having a strong feeling for the woman.

I have mentioned before Cindy, my present wife, is much more suited to my life’s preferences and I am now a man who can say has been loved by and loved dearly two different women. I can also say I am now the father of 5 children, two of which happens to be my own and three who came as gifts through Cindy.

I have a huge CD collection with perhaps 80% of which has come to us through promotion, either for radio air play, press kits for those ten years of producing concerts, from the festivals and artist we have worked with and our involvement with the International Folk Alliance. Rarely have I ever received or asked for an autograph from any of the artist. In fact I suppose I do have a sense of pride in that I probably only have perhaps at the most a dozen. I am not sure about this as I would really have to check through all the paraphernalia in our garage, office and other nooks and crannies about this house, or perhaps as couple of artist who stayed a weekend with us called, “the mountain cabin in the woods”.

I have over the years found performing artist to be just like the rest of us, normal people who happen to have a gift that they are bringing for us to appreciate. When they become more well known the need to keep a distance between fans becomes a necessary evil as there are always those feel they now own you. Once they have come to know and trust you that barrier comes down.

Odetta was always a gracious woman. She was bigger than life and not in the way one of the Rock icons or Movie actors are. She was a real down to earth human being, intelligent, well read and comfortable among the common people as well as those less common.

Yes, I did shed a quite private tear even though I knew the end was soon.
This is a lovely post. Thanks for sharing your experience with this remarkable woman.

Here are links to three other posts about Odetta, a couple of which also involve personal meetings with this legendary woman:

John Guzlowski’s “Odetta”

Dorsey Shaw’s “Civil Rights Legend Odetta: A Look Back”

Lea Lane’s “To Odetta”

Paws up.