Folk singer Odetta dies
Published 1:57 pm Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Odetta, the folk singer with the powerful voice who moved audiences and influenced fellow musicians for a half-century, has died. She was 77.
Odetta died Tuesday of heart disease at Lenox Hill Hospital, said her manager of 12 years, Doug Yeager. She was admitted to the hospital with kidney failure about three weeks ago, he said.
In spite of failing health that caused her to use a wheelchair, Odetta performed 60 concerts in the last two years, singing for 90 minutes at a time. Her singing ability never diminished, Yeager said.
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“The power would just come out of her like people wouldn’t believe,” he said.
With her booming, classically trained voice and spare guitar, Odetta gave life to the songs by workingmen and slaves, farmers and miners, housewives and washerwomen, blacks and whites.
First coming to prominence in the 1950s, she influenced Harry Belafonte, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and other singers who had roots in the folk music boom.
An Odetta record on the turntable, listeners could close their eyes and imagine themselves hearing the sounds of spirituals and blues as they rang out from a weathered back porch or around a long-vanished campfire a century before.
“What distinguished her from the start was the meticulous care with which she tried to re-create the feeling of her folk songs; to understand the emotions of a convict in a convict ditty, she once tried breaking up rocks with a sledge hammer,” Time magazine wrote in 1960.
“She is a keening Irishwoman in ‘Foggy Dew,’ a chain-gang convict in ‘Take This Hammer,’ a deserted lover in ‘Lass from the Low Country,'” Time wrote.