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Odetta (December 31, 1930 - December 2, 2008) was an African-American singer whose repertoire consists largely of American folk music, blues, and spirituals.
She was born Odetta Holmes in Birmingham, Alabama, grew up in Los Angeles, California, and studied music at Los Angeles City College. Having operatic training from the age of 13, her first professional experience was in musical theater, with a touring company of the musical Finian’s Rainbow in 1949.
While on tour with Finian’s Rainbow, Odetta “fell in with an enthusiastic group of young balladeers”, and after 1951 concentrated on folksinging. She made her name by playing around the country: at the Blue Angel nightclub (New York City), the hungry i (San Francisco), and Tin Angel (San Francisco), where she and Larry Mohr recorded Odetta and Larry in 1954, for Fantasy Records.
A solo career followed, with Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues (1956) and a live album recorded at the Gate of Horn in Chicago in 1957. Harry Belafonte included her in a nationwide television special in 1959, and Odetta Sings Folk Songs was one of 1963’s best-selling folk albums.
Odetta was active in the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King, Jr. called her “the queen of American folk music”. Bob Dylan and Joan Baez were among many folk musicians who credited Odetta with being a major influence on their work.
Having previous acting experience, Odetta also acted in several films, notably the film of William Faulkner’s Sanctuary (1961) and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974).
On December 02, 2008, Odetta died from heart disease in New York City. She was 77 years of age.