Odetta and legacy music

By Elizabeth Doyle


Odetta – The world lost a legendary singer in December, 2008. Odetta had one of the most powerful voices I’ve ever heard, and sang some of strongest, most blood-pumping American folk songs and spirituals. There really will never be another Odetta. After a lifetime of struggling against racism in her early life, her dearest wish was to sing at the inauguration of America’s first black president. President Obama invited her to sing at his inauguration, and she was planning to do so. Then tragically, she died of heart failure just before she could. She will certainly never be forgotten in American music.  Here is a taste of what she sounded like in her prime. Click here.

Here she is, performing live, near the end of her life. Click here.

In honor of her, here are two singers who make me think of her:

India Arie





India.Arie – This is the singer I listen to whenever I drive a car. She’s bouncy enough to keep me awake, but she’s just brimming with positive messages.  I own every album she’s made so far, and will probably own every one she makes in the future! There’s a powerful spirit in her music, and a hint of enlightenment in her lyrics that I think could have been born from a foundation laid out by Odetta’s legacy. Although, of course, she has a voice that’s all her own. Click here.

Ani DeFranco




Ani DiFranco – This is Ani DiFranco. To some women my age, she’s been one of the most important singers of our time. (I’m 40.)  Many of us started listening to her in our 20s, when her music was highly political and angry. Back then, she always sounded like she was about to break the strings off her guitar. There was an Odetta-like fierceness and determination. We kept listening to her in our 30s, when her music became more full of personal angst and reflection.  Although most of those songs alluded to existential struggles, there was a softness-over-a-strong-undercurrent that was not unlike an Odetta spiritual in some ways.  And then, in what seemed like a great coincidence to me, after I’d spent decades following her music  – she had a baby around the same time I did. And wrote this very simple, but poignant song. Click here.

Top photo: Lee Paxton / Wikimedia Commons/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Odetta.jpg / Odetta performing at the Kent State Folk Festival in Kent, Ohio, on November 18, 2006.

Second photo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ / Wikimedia Commons / File: Ani_Difranco_Ancienne_Belgique.jpg

Third photo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Wikimedia Commons / File: Ani_Difranco_Ancienne_Belgique.jpg

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