Another sad death to report – that of Odetta, one of the great singers of the last 50 years. Here’s a part of the entry on Odetta, from Michael Gray’s Bob Dylan Encyclopedia…, and below, an all-too-brief clip of Odetta at the Newport Folk Festival.
She was encouraged through the 1950s by many in the music business, especially Harry Belafonte, on whose 1959 TV Special she appeared to great effect. This can be readily imagined by anyone who saw the vintage footate of Odetta performing ‘Water Boy’ shown within Scorsese’s No Direction Home in 2005, on which the stark, ferocious power of her field-holler delivery and explosive use of the sound-box on her guitar were matched only by her terrifying teeth. This all leapt out at the viewer across a 50-year divide to explain instantaneously why Bob Dylan had found her so revelatory and important to his early entrancement with folk – and when it was new, such a performance must have exploded into Eisenhower America’s living rooms as the nightmare embodiment of the nation’s oppressed ex-slaves rising up as if to start a slaughter of revenge.
But Odetta was no field-hand, as made clear when, appearing at Belafonte’s Carnegie Hall concert of May 1960 – billed above Miriam Makeba and the Chad Mitchell trio – she followed a medley of ‘I’ve Been Driving on Bald Mountain’ and ‘Water Boy’ with a double act with Belafonte on that tiresome old Leadbelly song ‘There’s a Hole in the Bucket’, on which the timing and delivery of her spoken lines is that of a professional actress. To track back through her 1950s recordings is to recognise that despite the marvellous ferocity of ‘Water Boy’, the great majority are understandably invaded by the well-spoken gentility and concert-platform formality of musicianship that were prevalent in 1950s folk music, despite the way that both the blues and rock’n’roll had demonstrated the artistic glory to be had from abolishing these aspirations.
One Thought to “Odetta, R.I.P.”
Oh Odetta, sing for meTake me across that deep blue seaBack to the Garden whence we cameBack to the spring of your sweet refrain"All the way to freedom land…All the way to freedom land"Across the skies and back through timeBack to the cradle of humankindOh Odetta, sing for meTake me across that deep blue seaShe was a force of nature, second to noneEarth, wind and fire rolled into oneRolling thunder across the skySweet Black Angel from on highMighty river crisscrossin' our landInviting everyone to stand hand-in-handTo gather 'round and sing a songOf hope and redemption–it won¹t be longOh Odetta, sing for meTake me across that deep blue seaYou can trace her song to the heart of the SouthOne New Year¹s Eve and the cry from a mouthOf a big baby girl, strong and sweetTo a tear of joy on a Mama¹s cheekWhat¹s in a name? Father Time do tellSo her folks made sure to choose a name wellThe name Odetta, once akin to melody,Foretold a future–a destinyOh Odetta, sing for meTake me across that deep blue seaOdetta, she could sing before she could talkOdetta, she could dance before she could walkThe gift of music flows through her veinsAnd bursts at the seams like a runaway trainClassically trained right from the startAlong came the music that stole her heartMusic of the people, music of the landPure and simple–noble and grandOh Odetta, sing for meTake me across that deep blue seaStraight from the "Bam" she moved out to L.A.Then it was on to the 'Frisco BayShe joined a theater, and started to singThen picked up a guitar and let it ringHer Fate was sealed when she was still youngA folk musician she would becomeTo souls of the past she¹d lend her voiceMay their spirits arise–and may they rejoiceOh Odetta, sing for meTake me across that deep blue seaWith an Afro like a halo, she could be seenAll decked out like an African QueenAnd just about the time she was being discoveredThe glory of her people was recoveredPeople flocked in to catch the new soundAs it traveled by train from town to townGuided by a spirit that beamed a lightBlack Is Beautiful–Right Is MightOh Odetta, sing for meTake me across that deep blue seaArriving in the Village, she was given the keysAnd greeted with bows on bended kneesWithin weeks she was proclaimedThe Queen of Folk, and to this day she remainsThe Mother Hen of folk musiciansThe guardian angel of a sacred traditionCasting her spell both day and nightBridging the gap between black and whiteOh Odetta, sing for meTake me across that deep blue seaOne fine hour back in '63Odetta sang her famous Freedom TrilogyBy her side stood Martin Luther KingHis "I Have A Dream" speech about to take wingAnd to the whole world she sang with prideOf freedom sought and freedom deniedAs centuries of trials, troubles and tribulationsGave rise to the dream of a… United Nation!Oh Odetta, sing for meTake me across that deep blue seaOh Odetta, sing for meTake me across that deep blue seaBack to the Garden whence we cameBack to the spring of your sweet refrain"All the way to freedom land…All the way to freedom land"Across the skies and back through timeBack to the cradle of Humankind…Humankind…HumankindAnd before I'll be a slaveI'll be buried in my grave••••••Ode To Odetta Words and music by Stephen Alcorn ©2008Should you wish to listen to a homespun demo, you may do so via the following links/pages of my website:LYRICS:http://www.alcorngallery.com/adesso//media/OdeToOdetta_lyrics.phpMP3 AUDIO DEMO:http://www.alcorngallery.com/adesso//media/Ode-To-Odetta.mp3ADESSO page:http://www.alcorngallery.com/adesso//adesso_mp3_samples.phpAnd on a purely visual note:MODERN MUSIC MASTERS cycle of portraits:http://www.alcorngallery.com/rbp/relief-block-prints.php The Alcorn Studio & Gallery112 West Main StreetCambridge, NY 12816Tel. (518) 677-5798e-mail: email@example.com the web: http://www.alcorngallery.com