October 16, 2003 Folk Icon Odetta to Perform on Nov. 13

Library Will Honor Her With Living Legend Award

Press Contact: Audrey Fischer (202) 707-0022
Public Contact: Martha Kennedy (202) (202) 707-9115

The American Folklife Center will present the legendary singer Odetta in a special concert at the Library of Congress, at 8 p.m., Nov. 13, in the Coolidge Auditorium, Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First Street S.E., Washington, D.C.

As a prelude to the concert, the Library will award Odetta a “Living Legend” award, given to recognize and honor individuals who have made significant contributions to America’s cultural, scientific and social heritage. Other musicians who have received the Living Legend award include Harry Belafonte, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles and Yo Yo Ma.

The concert, which is co-sponsored by the Library’s Music Division, is free of charge, and no tickets are required. Seating is limited, however, and concertgoers should plan to arrive early.

Odetta is one of the most influential folk artists of the past 50 years and has been performing for six decades. Her voice is strong and impressive, and her stage presence is extraordindary. Born in Birmingham, Ala., in 1930, Odetta moved to Los Angeles when she was 6 years old and began classical music training at the age of 13. Five years later she joined the road tour 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. To this day Odetta credits the archive with providing the foundation for the breadth and depth of her repertoire, which includes worksongs, blues, jazz, spirituals, white Appalachian and English folksongs. The archive is now part of the American Folklife Center and is celebrating 75 years of preserving and presenting American folklife this year.

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, Ala., 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.

For the next three decades, Odetta continued to expand her artistic horizons. She appeared in plays and televison dramas, performed with symphony orchestras and jazz musicians and toured all over the world while continuing to record and to work for social causes.

In recent years Odetta was invited as an “Elder” to the International Women’s Conference in Beijing, China; received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the World Folk Music Association; and in 1999 was awarded the National Medal of the Arts and Humanities by President Clinton.

The American Folklife Center was created by Congress in 1976 and placed at the Library of Congress to “preserve and present American folklife” through programs of research, documentation, archival preservation, reference service, live performance, exhibition, public programs and training. The center includes the Archive of Folk Culture, which was established in the Library in 1928 and is now one of the largest collections of ethnographic material from the United States and around the world.


PR 03-178
ISSN 0731-3527