Odetta (Gordon, Odetta Holmes Felious)

views updated

Odetta (Gordon, Odetta Holmes Felious)

December 31, 1930

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, folk singer Odettaas she is invariably knowngrew up in Los Angeles, where her family moved when she was six. By the age of thirteen she was studying piano and singing. She also taught herself to play the guitar. She studied classical music and musical theater at Los Angeles City College and performed in a 1949 production of Finian's Rainbow in San Francisco. In the early 1950s Odetta, with her rich contralto voice, emerged as an important figure on the San Francisco and New York folk music scenes. With the encouragement of Harry Belafonte and Pete Seeger, she began performing and recording more widely, presenting an eclectic repertory of spirituals, slave songs, prison and work songs, folk ballads, Caribbean songs, and blues (My Eyes Have Seen, 1959; Sometimes I Feel Like Cryin', 1962). She also appeared in the film Sanctuary (1961).

In the early 1960s Odetta began to address political and social issues. She became an important advocate for civil rights and took part in the historic 1963 civil rights march in Washington, D.C. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s she continued to perform internationally and to record music (Odetta Sings the Blues, 1967). In 1974 she appeared in the television film The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. A 1986 concert marking forty years of her life as a performer was released as a live recording (Movin' It On, 1987).

Odetta has received acclaim throughout the world as one of the central figures of modern folk music. In 1998 she released a CD, To Ella, a tribute to her late friend Ella Fitzgerald. The following year, Odetta recorded Blues Everywhere I Go. With the release of Looking for a Home in 2001, Odetta returned to her roots to pay homage to a prominent influence, Leadbelly.

See also Belafonte, Harry; Blues, The; Folk Music


Armstrong, Don. "Odetta: A Citizen of the World." Crisis 90, no. 6 (JuneJuly 1983): 5152.

Greenberg, Mark. "Power and Beauty: The Legend of Odetta." Sing Out 36, no. 2 (AugustOctober 1991): 28.

rosita m. sands (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005

About this article

Odetta (Gordon, Odetta Holmes Felious)

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article