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bear by san

December 2021



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lion in winter dead

sixteen pretty maidens to carry my coffin

Singer, civil rights activist, legend in her own time--

Odetta has died, aged 77.

If just the mention of her name doesn't send chills up your spine, click that youtube link. No, really. Do.

Oh, here. Have two. They're small.


I grew up listening to the Midnight Special (the Chicago radio show, not the one on TV), and Odetta was one of the singers who was featured regularly there. Her voice was instantly recognizable.

She'll be missed.
It's a sad day.

I'm glad I got to hear her a few years ago in Toronto (at Hugh's Room, where, she told the audience, they really knew how to treat her well.)

Shivers, indeed.

*Raises glass*
In 1999, the Eli Whitney Folk Festival revived itself in New Haven after several years of dormancy. Odetta headlined, with Dar Williams opening.

I didn't get involved with the Festival That Ate My Brain until 2000, and while I was very excited to see that Dar would be playing literally just a few yards up the street from my house, we weren't in town that weekend, so sadly, I never got to see Odetta perform in person.

This makes me sad. I am also sad that she didn't live to see (or perform at) Barack Obama's inauguration, but I'm sure she'll be there in spirit.
An amazing influence on American Music. Her first album is still in print. Everybody from Bob Dylan on down stole a part of their bad attitude from her. A stylist, an interesting and effective guitar player and the best set of pipes on the planet.

Calling her a "Civil Rights Singer" like the NYT did is such an understatement. You want cold chills, get that first album. Even if it does have "Down in the Valley" on it.

Her last years were spent reviving the full-voiced blues woman style, like Bessie Smith, and Ma Rainey. Never done better. A monster musician. No replacements for that one.
Unique in the world, yes. And fantastic.
Thanks for tracking that down and posting the links. I'm not internet-savvy enough to do it myself . . .

Saw her live, once, must have been forty years ago. The recordings didn't do her justice.
I saw her once or twice when I was quite young. She was singular.


She is such a great loss. I've listened to her for forty years, and she never ceased to move me.

I wish I could find her version of "Out Under a Winter Sky."
Me, sorry.

It's true.

I love the little bit of St. James Infirmary stuffed into the middle of House of the Rising Sun, there, too. *Perfect.*

I saw her perform, must have been at least 20 years ago. Amazing.
I was lucky enough to see her last summer at the Ottawa Folk Festival. But the show that really sticks in my mind was her first at the Ottawa Folk Festival, in 2000. The power went out. No audio equipment, no lights other than a flashlight, and three thousand people being very quiet and listening. Magic! A review is still online here. I think I saw her three times, twice in 2000 and in 2007.
Oh, damn. I'd really hoped she'd be able to sing at Obama's inauguration, as she'd planned.

At least she leaves us with that tremendous, unerasable body of work.
*sigh* Although I'm thinking of her own songs, for some reason the lines to Janis Ian's 'Hymn' come to me: 'When we grow old and love grows cold/And time runs down like a river that calls us home." And Odetta's lovely vocals on that number. And seeing her live.

She's been called home. Damn. We'll miss her.
One of my father's very favorite songs was Odetta's performance of "Foggy Foggy Dew," and it never fails to shivers up my spine.
I'm sorry to hear that. Her version of "Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya" is the best I ever heard; makes you cry.
Impressing, really!
Thank you for posting those videos. The first one especially is amazing.
She sang at my grade school once; all I have to do to get those chills is close my eyes and remember. Odetta and Miriam Makeba within a week. Damn.
Thank you for sharing those! I too grew up listening to those songs. Such a beautiful voice. Her spirit will live on as she has influenced so many.
BYW, i just gave away the (much scratched) family copy of the first album on vinyl. My dad bought it at a gas station a very long time ago. Even though he was a right winger, he loved Odetta, Josh White, Burl Ives and Paul Robsen.
An amazing woman with a truly outstanding voice. Her version of House of the Rising Sun sends chills down my spine.
The world has lost another great one.
If you ever have nothing better to do on Saturday night at 10 PM Eastern, try - Rich Warren's "Midnight Special", live feed. It's been on over 50 years.