Odetta A life in music and protest

Ian Zack

Book - 2020

"The untold story of the woman whose music and afro inspired a generation, whose voice provided a soundtrack for the unfolding civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s"--

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Subjects
Genres
Biographies
Published
Boston : Beacon Press [2020]
Language
English
Physical Description
xi, 276 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (black and white) ; 24 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN
9780807035320
0807035327
Main Author
Ian Zack (author)
  • A voice like thunder
  • From Birmingham to Los Angeles
  • Straightened my back, kinked my hair
  • The toast of New York
  • Getting political
  • The fuse is lit
  • TV sensation
  • That lovely Odetta ... playing a murderess
  • Enter Bob Dylan
  • In the heart of Jim Crow
  • March music
  • The times they are a-changin'
  • Freedom gets personal
  • Hit or miss
  • Blues everywhere I go
  • "Who will be the Odetta of now?"
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* In the first in-depth biography of singer and civil rights icon Odetta, Zack offers a thoughtful portrait of an artist who never quite became as famous as she deserved to be, even though her music has influenced generations of musicians, from Bob Dylan and Joan Baez to Suzanne Vega and Tracy Chapman to Rhiannon Giddens and even Miley Cyrus. Odetta did not fit into easily defined categories. She was an African American singer with an operatic voice and perfect diction who chose to sing folk songs associated with the civil rights movement. Seemingly simple gestures (to stop straightening her hair) took on great meaning during a time when Black pride had not yet achieved wider acceptance. Odetta celebrated Blackness before such recognition was mainstream even as she defied images of what constituted African American authenticity. She was naturally shy but overcame her diffidence to evoke a regal presence on stage while earning a reputation as an excellent finger-style guitarist; her approach became known as "the Odetta strum." Zack follows her career from Los Angeles to San Francisco to New York, chronicling how Odetta had to endure not only racism but also sexism. A much-needed biography of a crucial American artist and activist.WOMEN IN FOCUS Copyright 2020 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Releasing years of pent-up anger through her powerful voice, Odetta Holmes, known as "Odetta" (1930–2008), quickly became the "face of the civil rights movement," inspiring other folk legends such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez and living on through the artists she continues to inspire. Drawing from Odetta's personal papers and countless interviews, Zack (Say No to the Devil) makes insightful parallels between the fight for civil rights and Odetta's songs, which became rousing anthems for protesters. He also reveals intimate details of Odetta's private life and relationships, such as her friendships with Harry Belafonte and Martin Luther King Jr. Superbly researched and beautifully organized, this is an excellent work of scholarship. Although Odetta never achieved the same level of fame as some of her folk music counterparts, she leaves behind a significant and enduring legacy; those unaware of her work will be compelled to learn more. VERDICT An illuminating, stirring biography of the extraordinary "Queen of American Folk."—Julie Whiteley, Stephenville, TX Copyright 2020 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Zack (Say No to the Devil) celebrates the life of guitarist-vocalist-lyricist Odetta Holmes (1930–2008) in this fascinating first full-length biography of the musician. Odetta blended jazz, blues, country, and folk and influenced generations of musicians, including Joan Baez, Miley Cyrus, Bob Dylan, and Rhiannon Giddens. "Her soaring vocals and preternatural ability to inhabit the characters she sang about left her predominantly white audiences spellbound," Zack writes. He traces Odetta's life from her birthplace in Birmingham, Ala., to Los Angeles, where she received opera lessons at 13 and performed in musical and theatrical ensembles. By the mid-1950s, she was performing folk music in San Francisco and New York City nightclubs. Zack provides a complete discography of her seminal recordings, which includes Odetta Sings Ballads and Odetta at the Gate of Horn. Throughout this expertly researched biography, Zack shares testimonies of friends and fellow musicians, including Harry Belafonte: "the people who heard her became deeply committed to a force and something that she brought to the table that was so artful." A political activist, Odetta performed at the 1963 March on Washington, after which she would earn the moniker "The Voice of the Civil Rights Movement." Odetta fans will delight in this timely biography. (Apr.) Copyright 2020 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

A portrait of the music artist credited as the “Voice of the Civil Rights Movement” traces Odetta’s early life in deeply segregated Alabama through her famed performances in major cities, demonstrating how she combated racism through her powerful lyrics.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

"The untold story of the woman whose music and afro inspired a generation, whose voice provided a soundtrack for the unfolding civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s"--

Review by Publisher Summary 3

An AudioFile Best Audiobook of 2020

The first in-depth biography of the legendary singer and “Voice of the Civil Rights Movement,” who combatted racism and prejudice through her music.

Odetta channeled her anger and despair into some of the most powerful folk music the world has ever heard. Through her lyrics and iconic persona, Odetta made lasting political, social, and cultural change.

A leader of the 1960s folk revival, Odetta is one of the most important singers of the last hundred years. Her music has influenced a huge number of artists over many decades, including Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, the Kinks, Jewel, and, more recently, Rhiannon Giddens and Miley Cyrus.

But Odetta’s importance extends far beyond music. Journalist Ian Zack follows Odetta from her beginnings in deeply segregated Birmingham, Alabama, to stardom in San Francisco and New York. Odetta used her fame to bring attention to the civil rights movement, working alongside Joan Baez, Harry Belafonte, and other artists. Her opera-trained voice echoed at the 1963 March on Washington and the Selma to Montgomery march, and she arranged a tour throughout the deeply segregated South. Her “Freedom Trilogy” songs became rallying cries for protesters everywhere.

Through interviews with Joan Baez, Harry Belafonte, Judy Collins, Carly Simon, and many others, Zack brings Odetta back into the spotlight, reminding the world of the folk music that powered the civil rights movement and continues to influence generations of musicians today.

Listen to the author’s top five Odetta hits while you read:

1. Spiritual Trilogy (Oh Freedom/Come and Go with Me/I’m On My Way)
2. I’ve Been Driving on Bald Mountain/Water Boy
3. Take This Hammer
4. The Gallows Pole
5. Muleskinner Blues

Access the playlist here: https://spoti.fi/3c2HnF4

Review by Publisher Summary 4

An AudioFile Best Audiobook of 2020The first in-depth biography of the legendary singer and “Voice of the Civil Rights Movement,” who combatted racism and prejudice through her music.Odetta channeled her anger and despair into some of the most powerful folk music the world has ever heard. Through her lyrics and iconic persona, Odetta made lasting political, social, and cultural change.A leader of the 1960s folk revival, Odetta is one of the most important singers of the last hundred years. Her music has influenced a huge number of artists over many decades, including Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, the Kinks, Jewel, and, more recently, Rhiannon Giddens and Miley Cyrus.But Odetta’s importance extends far beyond music. Journalist Ian Zack follows Odetta from her beginnings in deeply segregated Birmingham, Alabama, to stardom in San Francisco and New York. Odetta used her fame to bring attention to the civil rights movement, working alongside Joan Baez, Harry Belafonte, and other artists. Her opera-trained voice echoed at the 1963 March on Washington and the Selma to Montgomery march, and she arranged a tour throughout the deeply segregated South. Her “Freedom Trilogy” songs became rallying cries for protesters everywhere. Through interviews with Joan Baez, Harry Belafonte, Judy Collins, Carly Simon, and many others, Zack brings Odetta back into the spotlight, reminding the world of the folk music that powered the civil rights movement and continues to influence generations of musicians today.Listen to the author’s top five Odetta hits while you read:1. Spiritual Trilogy (Oh Freedom/Come and Go with Me/I’m On My Way) 2. I’ve Been Driving on Bald Mountain/Water Boy 3. Take This Hammer 4. The Gallows Pole 5. Muleskinner BluesAccess the playlist here: https://spoti.fi/3c2HnF4