Odetta, widely honored as the "Voice of the Civil Rights Movement" died Tuesday, age 77. When I was a kid infatuated with Bob Dylan and Joan Baez I looked for their roots in the blues and found Odetta. I booked her to play at my college and was blown away by the authenticity of her music.
Odetta Holmes was born in Birmingham, Ala., on Dec. 31, 1930, in the depths of the Depression. The music of that time and place-- particularly prison songs and work songs recorded in the fields of the Deep South-- shaped her life.
"They were liberation songs," she said in a videotaped interview with the New York Times in 2007 for its online feature "The Last Word." "You're walking down life's road, society's foot is on your throat, every which way you turn you can't get from under that foot. And you reach a fork in the road and you can either lie down and die, or insist upon your life."
She never had anything like what you would call a hit but her version of this Lead Belly song was something everyone loved around my campus, well, not the Young Republicans, but everyone else.