Folk Singer Odetta Passes Away

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Videos by American Songwriter

Influential folk singer and activist Odetta passed away this Tuesday at age 77 due to complications from heart disease and kidney failure, according to a statement released by her manager Doug Yeager.

Influential folk singer and activist Odetta passed away this Tuesday at age 77 due to complications from heart disease and kidney failure, according to a statement released by her manager Doug Yeager.

Odetta’s career first took off in the 1950s, when she hit the scene with powerful songs reminiscent of those heard in the fields during the days of slavery. Often described as “booming,” her voice inspired a wide range of artists that includes such icons as Bob Dylan and Harry Belafante.

“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.

As if her music career were not significant enough on its own, Odetta was also a prominent player in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. Singing at the March on Washington in 1963, she hoped that her music would inspire her colleagues to “take pride in the history of the American Negro.”

Still active in both civil rights and music (she performed over 60 dates in the last two years), Odetta was hoping to sing for President Elect Barack Obama’s inauguration in January.


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