African-American folksinger. Born Odetta Holmes, Dec 31, 1930, in Birmingham, Alabama; dau. of Reuben Holmes and Flora (Sanders) Holmes; graduate of Los Angeles City College; m. Don Gordon, 1959 (div.); m. Iversen Minter, 1977.
Internationally famous, with a career that spanned over 5 decades, made professional debut in chorus of musical Finian's Rainbow in Los Angeles, at 19; drawn to folk music, taught herself to play the guitar and began singing at fundraisers; performed folk music at clubs in Los Angeles and San Francisco (1952), including the Hungry i; appeared at NYC's Blue Angel nightclub (1953) and returned to NY frequently, becoming a leader in the rebirth of folk music; with powerful, soulful voice, expanded repertoire into a number of genres, including spirituals, blues, jazz, and social protest songs (1950s); released 1st album, The Tin Angel (1954); acted in theater productions, as well as in several films, including The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954); performed at folk festivals and in solo concerts across US, in addition to releasing 16 albums (1960s); influenced the musical development of many prominent folk and rock musicians, including Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin; performed in England and toured in Soviet Union and Eastern Europe (1970s); appeared in "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman" (1974); after a dormant period, made comeback at age 69 with album for Vanguard, Blues Everywhere I Go, which was nominated for a Grammy Award; also released Odetta: Best of the Vanguard Years (1999). Awarded National Endowment for the Arts Medal by Bill Clinton (1999).
See also Women in World History.