One of the most beloved figures of the folk music boom of the 1960s, Odetta always featured more than a few blues in her vast repertoire of folk songs. And when she sang the blues, her booming, resonant contralto and authoritative delivery recalled the majesty of Bessie Smith. It was a most inspired idea, then, when Riverside Records called Odetta into the studio in 1962 to record an album of nothing but the blues, all sung in the classic style of the Twenties. The instrumental jazz backing, … MORE
Throughout her career, Odetta (b. 1930) has excelled at singing folk songs, blues, ballads, spirituals, and even, on rare occasions, pop and jazz.
Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Odetta grew up in Los Angeles. She sang in school, studied classical music at City College and appeared in the chorus of the show Finian’s Rainbow in 1949. Odetta taught herself the guitar and by the early 1950s was working as a folk singer, especially in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York. Her fame gradually grew during the decade until, by the late 1950s, she was often thought of as the top female folksinger, appearing at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1959 and at Carnegie Hall.
One of Odetta’s more unusual albums was made for Riverside in 1962 and has been reissued in the Original Blues Classics series: Odetta and the Blues. Joined by a sextet filled with such jazz greats as trumpeter Buck Clayton, trombonist Vic Dickenson and pianist Dick Wellstood, she sings a variety of 1920s style blues and ballads including “How Long Blues,” “Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor,” and “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out.”
A little more conventional but just as worthy is The Tin Angel, a Fantasy set that has Odetta lending her powerful voice to such traditional material as “John Henry,” “Rock Island Line,” and “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands.” This is one of Odetta’s more definitive programs, featuring her in prime form.
Odetta has continued throughout her career to perform the music she most believes in, giving heartfelt interpretations of both vintage and new material.