Before Madonna, before Cher, even before Oprah, there was Odetta. A woman with a performance gift powerful enough to carry her on a single name.
Odetta was a folksinger who moved audiences and influenced fellow musicians － among them Bob Dylan, Harry Belafonte and Joan Baez － for over a half-century. She died December 2nd at the age of 77.
Quoth The New York Times, "With her booming, classically trained voice and spare guitar, Odetta gave life to the songs by workingmen and slaves, farmers and miners, washerwomen and housewives, blacks and whites.
"'What distinguished her from the start was the meticulous care with which she tried to re-create the feeling of her folk songs,' Time magazine wrote in 1960.
"'I'm not a real folksinger,' she told the Washington Post in 1983. 'I don't mind people calling me that, but I'm a musical historian. With folk music, I can do my teaching and preaching.'"
Thrice-nominated for a Grammy － the latest nom coming in 2005 for her album Gonna Let It Shine － Odetta was awarded the National Medal of the Arts in 1999 by then-President Bill Clinton. Clinton said Odetta's career showed us all "that songs have the power to change the heart and change the world."
Odetta was actively involved in the civil rights movement, singing at the March on Washington in August, 1963. "Odetta's great, full-throated voice carried almost to Capitol Hill," wrote The Times.
Despite failing health that kept her wheelchair-bound, Odetta performed 60 concerts during the last two years, singing for 90 minutes at a time. Her final big performance was October 4th at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco, where she sang for tens of thousands. Her manager says she was hoping to sing at the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama next month.
I've got a feeling she still will.