Odetta: A powerful woman of the 60s

 

Odetta Holmes (1930-2008) has been called the voice of the Civil Rights movement and is someone I deeply admire. Her folk and blues songs were popular in the late 50s and 60s but her career spanned over five decades. She has been named as an influence for Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Mavis Staples, Joan Baez, Harry Belafonte and Janis Joplin: she was even dubbed the “Queen of American Folk Music” by Martin Luther King Jr in 1961.

Album covers
Album covers

Her soulful records and performances were the soundtrack to many black power demonstrations and political rallies.

“All the hate and frustration and anger that I felt within me, I could get all of that out through the prison songs… It gave me a canvas to paint on and get rid of all that anger and hate.”

This cathartic, raw emotion comes through in her music and hearing it, you can understand the impact it must have had.

Odetta singing at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963.
Odetta singing at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963.

I think Odetta exemplifies the zeitgeist of the 60s because she was involved in and impacted by the powerful social movements occurring at the time. Her music inspired an entire generation to fight for racial equality.

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