Odetta Odetta

Odetta, the classically trained folk, blues and gospel singer who used her powerfully rich and dusky voice to champion African American music and civil rights issues for more than half a century starting in the folk revival of the 1950s,died on Dec. 3, 2008, She was 77.

She was admitted to Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City for a checkup in mid-November but went into kidney failure. She died there Tuesday of heart disease, her manager, Doug Yeager, told the Associated Press.

With a repertoire that included 19th century slave songs and spirituals as well as the topical ballads of such 20th century folk icons as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, Odetta became one of the most beloved figures in folk music.

She was said to have influenced the emergence of artists as varied as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Janis Joplin and Tracy Chapman.

“The first thing that turned me on to folk singing was Odetta,” Dylan once said. “From Odetta, I went to Harry Belafonte, the Kingston Trio, little by little uncovering more as I went along.”

Her affinity for traditional African American folk songs was a hallmark of her long career, along with a voice that could easily sweep from dark, husky low notes to delicate yet goose bump-inducing high register tones.

“The first time I heard Odetta sing,” Seeger once said, “she sang Leadbelly's ‘Take This Hammer’ and I went and told her how I wish Leadbelly was still alive so he could have heard her.”

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February 26, 2009

Remembering Odetta, Who Sang of Freedom

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