She influenced Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Janis Joplin. She was a folk pioneer. She is undoubtedly responsible for so many of the sounds we hear in popular music today. Her name is Odetta; the legendary singer died yesterday at age 77.
Despite battling heart disease and failing health, Odetta never stopped rocking, performing 60 concerts in the last two years that featured 90-minute sets of solid singing.
Odetta rose to prominence in the 1950s. Active in the civil rights movement, she sang at the March on Washington in August 1963, and was nominated for a Grammy the same year for Best Folk Recording. Her most recent Grammy nod was for 2005's Gonna Let It Shine. In 1965, she recorded an album of Bob Dylan covers called Odetta Sings Dylan, an ironic tribute on the part of a singer who inspired Dylan himself so much that in a 1978 Playboy interview, Dylan said "the first thing that turned me on to folk singing was Odetta." He said when he heard an early Odetta album in a record store as a teenager, he found something "vital and personal," and "right then and there, I went out and traded my electric guitar and amplifier for an acoustical guitar."
Odetta also heavily influenced the work of Janis Joplin -- she was the first singer that Joplin emulated when developing her singing style.
With her passion for civil rights, it is no surprise that Odetta had hoped to sing at the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama, though she hadn't been formally invited. The singer is survived by a daughter and son, and a memorial service is planned for next month.
Odetta - "Water Boy"
Odetta - "House of the Rising Sun"
Odetta - "Cotton Fields"