An elementary teacher found her singing voice and encouraged her mom to get Odetta proper training. Her music continues to be called the “soundtrack of the Civil Rights Movement.” She expired on December 2, 2008. Odetta Holmes, afterwards known only as Odetta, was created on December 31, 1930, in Birmingham, Alabama. Before she even learned the best way to play an instrument, Odetta banged on the household piano in hopes of creating music—until her family members got headaches and told her to quit. “They were liberation tunes,” she later remembered. “You are walking down life’s road, society’s foot is in your throat, every which way you turn you can not get from under that foot. And you also reach a fork in the road and you also will either lie down and perish or insist upon your life … those individuals who made up the tunes were the ones who insisted upon life.”
Odetta’s dad, Reuben Holmes, perished when Odetta was a kid. In 1937 she and her mom, Flora Sanders, moved across the united states to La. It was about the train to California that Odetta had her first major encounter with racism. “We were on the train when, at one stage, a conductor came back and said that each of the coloured folks needed to move out of the car and into another one,” she recalled. “That was my first large wound.”
Although Odetta adored singing, she never considered whether she’d any special vocal ability until among her grammar school teachers heard her voice. The teacher insisted to Odetta’s mom that she sign her up for ancient training. In junior high, after many years of voice training, she got a position in a prestigious signing group known as the Madrigal Singers. She afterwards insisted, nevertheless, that her real education came from outside the classroom. “School taught me just how to count and instructed me the best way to put a sentence together,” she admitted. So that as far as her musical growth went, Odetta said her proper training was “a fine activity, but it had nothing related to my life.”
In 1950, after graduating from school having a diploma in music, Odetta got a part in the chorus of a traveling production of Finian’s Rainbow. She fell in love with folk music when, following a show in San Francisco, she went into a Bohemian coffee shop and experienced a late night folk music session. “That night I heard hours and hours of tunes that actually reached where I dwell,” she said. “I borrowed a guitar and learned three chords, and began to sing at parties.” In 1953, she moved to Nyc and soon became a fixture at Manhattan’s famous Blue Angel club. “As I did those tunes, I really could work on my hate and fury without being anti-social,” she said. “Through those tunes, I learned things in regards to the real history of black people in this country the historians in school hadn’t been willing to tell us about or had lied about.”
Bob Dylan after mentioned that album as the record that first turned him on to folk music, and Time magazine raved about “the scrupulous care with which she attempted to recreate the sensation of her folk songs.” Odetta immediately followed with two more highly acclaimed folk records: In the Gate of Horn (1957) and My Eyes Have Seen (1959). In 1960, Odetta given a well-known concert at Carnegie Hall and released a live record of the performance. The 1960s, nevertheless, were Odetta’s most prolific years. She performed at political rallies, protests and gains.
Odetta’s popularity waned following the 1960s, and she recorded just several more records on the remaining four decades of her life. Her most notable later works contain Movin’ It On (1987), Blues Everywhere I Go (1999) and trying to find a House (2001). Among the finest American folk singers ever, Odetta continues to be mentioned as a dominant influence by such renowned musicians as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Janis Joplin. In 2004, she was made a Kennedy Center honoree as well as in 2005, the Library of Congress granted her its Living Legend Award. In her later years, following the popularity of folk music had decreased, Odetta made it her mission to talk about its potency using a fresh generation of youth. “The folk repertoire is our inheritance. Do not have to enjoy it, but we need to hear it,” she said. “I love getting to schools and telling children there is something else out there. It is from their forebears, plus it is an alternate to what they hear on the radio. As long as I’m performing, I am pointing out that tradition that’s ours.”
Odetta continued performing right up until nearly the day of her passing on December 2, 2008, in the age of 77. She’d dreamed of performing in the inauguration of President Barack Obama, but tragically passed away only weeks before he took office.