Odetta, “one of the most beloved figures in folk music,” said Randy Lewis and Mike Boehm in the Los Angeles Times, died at the age of 77 in New York on Tuesday. Born Odetta Holmes in Birmingham, Ala., she “used her powerfully rich and dusky voice to champion African American music and civil rights issues for more than half a century.”
“Rosa Parks was her No. 1 fan,” said Richard Corliss in Time, “and Martin Luther King Jr., called her the queen of American folk music.” Odetta “could envelop Carnegie Hall with her powerful contralto as other vocalists might fill a phone booth,” and while “some folks sing songs,” she “testified” to “the pain and perseverance of her ancestors.”
She was also a huge influence on Bob Dylan and his generation of folk singers, said The Australian, and had Odetta “chosen the world of R&B, gospel and soul music, she might have been a rival to Aretha Franklin, Mavis Staples and Nina Simone.” Odetta “was one of the first names Barack Obama penciled in to sing at his inauguration ceremony”—it’s too bad she didn’t live long enough to fulfill that dream.
But Odetta lived a very rich life, said Leah Greenblatt in Entertainment Weekly. Aside from her involvement in the civil rights movement, she “released nearly 30 albums—many of them live recordings—over her 50-plus-year career, while also acting in films (1961's Sanctuary, 1974's The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman) and touring extensively.” She was quite an amazing person, and she will be missed dearly.