TITLE: Legendary Folk Singer Odetta
SPEAKER: Odetta Holmes Felious Gordon
EVENT DATE: 2003/11/03
RUNNING TIME: 35 minutes
Peggy Bulger, director of the American Folklife Center, interviews folk singer Odetta, who was presented with the Living Legend Award by the Library of Congress.
Speaker Biography: A dynamic force in the American folk music scene for over fifty years, Odetta Holmes Felious Gordon, who performed under the name Odetta, began her training in classical music at the age of thirteen. Five years later she joined the touring company of "Finian's Rainbow," which included bluesman Sonny Terry, and her musical career took a different direction. She took up the guitar and began appearing at San Francisco-area folk clubs, where her powerful voice and unique guitar style brought her national attention. Josh White, Big Bill Broonzy, Pete Seeger and Harry Belafonte recognized her extraordinary talent, and were instrumental in furthering her career as she began to record and tour nationally. Early in her career, Odetta discovered the Archive of Folk-Song at the Library of Congress and spent many hours mining its riches. Until her death, Odetta continued to credit the archive with providing the foundation for the breadth and depth of her repertoire, which included worksongs, blues, jazz, spirituals, and Appalachian and English folksongs. In the 1960s, Odetta became a major figure in the folk revival scene and a powerful voice for the civil rights movement. At the same time that she was appearing at major concert venues such as the Newport Folk Festival and Carnegie Hall, she found the time to participate in the march on Selma, Alabama, and the 1963 March on Washington with Martin Luther King. Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Janis Joplin have credited Odetta's musical influence, and several of her recordings from this era became folk classics and inspired an entire generation. On Nov. 13, 2003, Odetta was presented with the Living Legend Award by the Library of Congress. She passed away on Dec. 2, 2008 at the age of 77.