In the Blog

I wish i didn’t have to keep doing this

December 4th, 2008     by Anna Leventhal     Comments

By which I mean saying goodbye to folk music and civil rights activist heroes. But only two weeks after we lost Miriam Makeba, we now also have to do without Odetta, the American folksinger who helped generations realize how essential African-American music has been to the development of songwriting, in America and elsewhere. She was also a major figure of the American civil rights movement - she performed at the historic 1963 March on Washington, the same march where Martin Luther King told America that he had a dream.

I kind of think of Odetta as the taproot of American folk music; her recordings and performances nourished so many people whose fame in some ways exceeded her own: Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Bruce Springsteen, and Harry Belafonte, among others, cite her as an early inspiration and influence. They packed stadiums with songs inspired by her style and throaty voice, and meanwhile she just kept at it, more or less under the radar of pop culture, recording and touring and performing well into her seventies.

But those who knew her knew her well; I’m proud to say that my hometown, Winnipeg, recognized her for what she was - or at least the Winnipeg Folk Festival did, when they honoured her in 2006 with their Lifetime Achievement Award. My friend’s mom had the honour of being her “driver” that summer, and she said she had never met someone who exuded such warmth and graciousness.

This video of her performing Water Boy is heart-shakingly powerful.

Tributes here and here and many other places too.

We’ll miss you lady.

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