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Although born in Alabama, after her father died when she was 7 years old, she moved with her mother to Los Angeles, where she grew up. He started in the world of music at age 13, taking opera lessons.
Beginning of his career
Odetta studied music at the City College of Los Angeles while working as a domestic worker. He hoped to follow Marian Anderson, but Odetta doubted that a great black girl would perform at the Metropolitan Opera. His first professional experience was in musical theater in 1944, as a member of the ensemble for four years with the Hollywood Turnabout Puppet Theater, working alongside Elsa Lanchester. In 1949, he joined the national touring company of the musical Finian’s Rainbow.
While on tour with Finian’s Rainbow, Odetta “met an enthusiastic group of young balladeers in San Francisco,” and after 1950 she concentrated on singing folk.
She became famous singing at Blue Angel nightclub in New York, and Hungry I in San Francisco. At Tin Angel in 1954, also in San Francisco, Odetta recorded Odetta and Larry with Larry Mohr for Fantasy Records.
He followed a solo career, with Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues (1956) and At the Gate of Horn (1957). Odetta Sings Folk Songs was one of the best-selling folk albums of 1963.
In 1959 he appeared in Tonight with Harry Belafonte, a nationally televised special. She sang “Water Boy” and a duo with Belafonte, “There’s a Hole in the Bucket”.
In 1961, Martin Luther King, Jr. called her “The Queen of American Folk Music.” Also in 1961 the duo Harry Belafonte and Odetta made the number 32 in the United Kingdom with the song “There’s a Hole in the Bucket. “She is remembered for her performance in March in Washington, at the 1963 civil rights demonstration, in which she sang” O Freedom. “She described her role in the civil rights movement as” one of the private soldiers in a very large army. “
Extending its musical scope, Odetta used band arrangements in several albums instead of playing alone. He launched into the music of a more “jazz” style on albums like Odetta and The Blues (1962) and Odetta (1967). His remarkable performance in 1968 at Woody Guthrie’s commemorative concert at Carnegie Hall is also well remembered.
Odetta acted in several films during this period, including Cinerama Holiday (1955); a film production of Sanctuary by William Faulkner (1961); and Jane Pittman’s autobiography (1974). In 1961 he appeared in an episode of the television series Have Gun, Will Travel, playing the wife of a man condemned to the gallows (“The Hanging of Aaron Gibbs”).
He married twice, first with Dan Gordon and then, after his divorce, with Gary Shead. His second marriage also ended in divorce. Blues singer and guitarist Louisiana Red was a former partner of his.
In May 1975 he appeared on the Say Brother program on public television, performing “Give Me Your Hand” in the studio. He spoke of his spirituality, of the musical tradition in which he was inspired and of his participation in the civil rights struggles.
In 1976, Odetta appeared in the American Bicentennial opera Be Glad Then, America by John La Montaine, as Muse for America; with Donald Gramm, Richard Lewis and the Penn State University Choir and the Pittsburgh Symphony. The production was directed by Sarah Caldwell who was the director of the Boston opera company at the time.
Odetta released two albums in the 20-year period from 1977 to 1997: Movin ‘It On, in 1987 and a new version of Christmas Spirituals, produced by Rachel Faro, in 1988.
As of 1998, he returned to recording and touring. The new CD To Ella (recorded live and dedicated to her friend Ella Fitzgerald upon learning of her death before going on stage), was released in 1998 at Silverwolf Records, followed by three releases at M.C. Records in association with pianist / arranger / producer Seth Farber and record producer Mark Carpentieri. These included Blues Everywhere I Go, an album nominated in 2000 for the blues / jazz Grammy and dedicated to the great blues singers of the Big Bands of the 20s and 30s. Afterwards he left In Search of a Home, in 2002 that was nominated for the WC Award Handy and dedicated to LeadBelly. And the Gonna Let It Shine 2007 nominated for the Grammy, a live album of evangelical and spiritual songs supported by Seth Farber and The Holmes Brothers. These recordings and tours took her to the guest appearance on fourteen new albums by other artists between 1999 and 2006 and the reissue of 45 old Odetta albums and compilation appearances.
On September 29, 1999, President Bill Clinton presented Odetta with the National Arts Medal of the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2004, Odetta was honored at the Kennedy Center with the “Visionary Award” along with a tribute from Tracy Chapman. In 2005, the Library of Congress honored her with her “Living Legend Award”.
In mid-September 2001, Odetta performed with the Boys’ Choir of Harlem on the Late Show with David Letterman, appearing on the first show after Letterman re-broadcast, having been off the air for several nights after the events of September 11; They interpreted “This Little Light of Mine”.
The 2005 documentary No Direction Home, directed by Martin Scorsese, highlights his musical influence on Bob Dylan, the subject of the documentary. The film contains a file clip of Odetta playing “Waterboy” on television in 1959, as well as his “Mule Skinner Blues” and “No More Auction Block for Me”.
In 2006, Odetta opened the shows for the jazz singer Madeleine Peyroux, and in 2006 she traveled to the United States, Canada and Europe accompanied by her pianist, which included being presented by the United States Embassy in Latvia as a keynote speaker. a human rights conference. He also gave a concert at the 1,000-year-old millennium-long Maza Guild Hall in Riga. In December 2006, the Winnipeg Folk Festival honored Odetta with his “Lifetime Achievement Award”. In February 2007, the International Folkloric Alliance granted Odetta the title of “Traditional Popular Artist of the Year”.
On March 24, 2007, a tribute concert to Odetta was presented at the Rachel Schlesinger Theater by the World Folk Music Association with live performances and tribute videos by Pete Seeger, Madeleine Peyroux, Harry Belafonte, Janis Ian , Sweet Honey in the Rock, Josh White Jr. (Josh White), Peter, Paul and Mary, Oscar Brand, Tom Rush, Jesse Winchester, Eric Andersen, Wavy Gravy, David Amram, Roger McGuinn, Robert Sims, Carolyn Hester, Donal Leace, Side, and Laura McGhee.
In 2007, Odetta Gonna’s album Let It Shine was nominated for a Grammy, and completed an important autumn concert tour on the “Songs of Spirit” show, which included artists from around the world. He traveled around North America in late 2006 and early 2007 to support this CD.
On January 21, 2008, Odetta was the keynote speaker at the commemoration of Martin Luther King, Jr. of San Diego, followed by concerts in San Diego, Santa Barbara, Santa Monica and Mill Valley, as well as being the only one guest for the night on PBS-TV, at the Tavis Smiley Show.
Odetta was honored on May 8, 2008 on a historic tribute night, at the Banjo Jim in the East Village.
In the summer of 2008, at the age of 77, he launched an American tour, where he sang from a wheelchair. His set of songs included “This Little Light of Mine”, and the themes of Lead Belly “” The Bourgeois Blues “,” (Something Inside) So Strong “,” Sometimes I feel like a child without a mother “and” The House ” of the Rising Sun “.
She made an appearance on June 30, 2008, at the Bitter End on Bleecker Street, in New York for a concert in tribute to Liam Clancy. His last big concert, before thousands of people, was at the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on October 4, 2008, for the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. His last performance was at Hugh’s Room in Toronto on October 25.
Barack Obama invited her to participate in her investiture ceremony, but she died on December 2, 2008 at 77 years of age due to heart disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.
At a memorial service for her in February 2009 at the church in New York City, the participants included Maya Angelou, Pete Seeger, Harry Belafonte, Steve Earle, Peter Yarrow, Maria Muldaur, Josh White, Jr., Emory Joseph, Rattlesnake Annie, the Chamber Choir of the Brooklyn Technical School, and recorded tributes from Tavis Smiley and Joan Baez.
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