odetta.jpg (9319 bytes)
(1930 - 3 Dec 2008)

Odetta was born on New Year's Eve, 1930, in Birmingham, Alabama. By the time she was six years old, she'd moved with her younger sister and mother to Los Angeles. She showed a keen interest in music from the time she was a child, and when she was about 10 years old, somewhere between church and school, her singing voice was discovered. Odetta's mother began saving money to pay for voice lessons for her, but was advised to wait until her daughter was 13 years old and well into puberty.

Thanks to her mother, Odetta did begin voice lessons when she was 13. She received a classical training, which was interrupted when her mother could no longer afford to pay for the lessons. The puppeteer Harry Burnette interceded and paid for Odetta to continue her voice training.
When she was 19 years old, Odetta landed a role in the Los Angeles production of Finian's Rainbow, which was staged in the summer of 1949 at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. It was during the run of this show that she first heard the blues harmonica master Sonny Terry. The following summer, Odetta was again performing in summer stock in California. This time it was a production of Guys and Dolls, staged in San Francisco. Hanging out in North Beach during her days off, Odetta had her first experience with the growing local folk music scene. Following her summer in San Francisco, Odetta returned to Los Angeles, where she worked as a live-in housekeeper. During this time she performed on a show bill with Paul Robeson.

In 1953, Odetta took some time off from her housecleaning chores to travel to New York City and appear at the famed Blue Angel folk club. Pete Seeger and Harry Belafonte had both taken an interest in her career by this time, and her debut album, The Tin Angel, was released in 1954. From this time forward, Odetta worked to expand her repertoire and make full use of what she has always termed her "instrument." When she began singing, she was considered a coloratura soprano. As she matured, she became more of a mezzo-soprano. Her experience singing folk music led her to discover a vocal range that runs from coloratura to baritone.

Odetta's most productive decade as a recording artist came in the 1960s, when she released 16 albums, including Odetta at Carnegie Hall, Christmas Spirituals, Odetta and the Blues, It's a Mighty World and Odetta Sings Dylan. In 1999 she released her first studio album in 14 years, Blues Everywhere I Go. Vanguard Records has released two excellent Odetta compilations: The Essential Odetta (1989) and Odetta: Best of the Vanguard Years (1999).

On September 29, 1999, President Bill Clinton presented Odetta with the National Endowment for the Arts' Medal of the Arts, a fitting tribute to one of the great treasures of American music. ~ Philip Van Vleck, All Music Guide


Original albums
1956 Odetta Sings Ballads And Blues TLP1010

1957 Odetta At the Gate of Horn TLP1025

1960 My Eyes Have Seen AVRS9021

1960 Ballad For Americans VSD2057

1960 Odetta At Carnegie Hall VSD2072

1960 Christmas Spirituals VSD2079

1962 Odetta At Town Hall VSD2109

1963 One Grain Of Sand VSD2153

1963 Odetta And Larry FS3252

1962 Odetta and The Blues RLP9417

Sometimes I Feel Like Cryin'

1963 Odetta Sings Folk Songs LSP2643

1964 It's A Mighty World LSP2792

1964 Odetta Sings Of Many Things LSP2923

1965 Odetta Sings Dylan LSP3324

1966 Odetta In Japan LSP3457

1967 Odetta FTS3014

1976 Odetta At The Best Of Harlem FLC5007

1987 Movin' It On RQ101

Christmas Spirituals

To Ella

1999 Blues Everywhere I Go MC0038

Compilation albums
1967 The Best Of Odetta TLP1052

1987 The Essential Odetta VCD43/44

Odetta also appears on the following albums:

Belafonte Returns To Carnegie Hall

Folk Festival At Newport Vol. 2

A Tribute To Woodie Guthrie Vol. 1

A Tribute To Woodie Guthrie Vol. 2

A Tribute To Woodie Guthrie Vol. 1 & 2