Odetta, the folk singer with the powerful voice who moved audiences and influenced fellow musicians for a half-century, has died. She was 77. 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, said her manager of 12 years, Doug Yeager. 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. Odetta called on her fellow blacks to “take pride in the history of the American Negro” and was active in the civil rights movement. When she sang at the March on Washington in August 1963, “Odetta’s great, full-throated voice carried almost to Capitol Hill,” The New York Times wrote. “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. I’m a city kid who has admired an area and who got into it. I’ve been fortunate. With folk music, I can do my teaching and preaching, my propagandizing.” Her 1965 album “Odetta Sings Dylan” included such standards as “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” “Masters of War” and “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” In a 1978 Playboy interview, Dylan said, “the first thing that turned me on to folk singing was Odetta.” He said he found “just something vital and personal” when he heard an early album of hers in a record store as a teenager. “Right then and there, I went out and traded my electric guitar and amplifier for an acoustical guitar,” he said.
RIP Miss Odetta