Odetta, the 'Queen of American Folk Music,' makes her transition

DAA'IYA L.SANUSI | 4/12/2011, 4:33 p.m.
Odetta, the 'Queen of American Folk Music,' makes her transition

The "Queen of American Folk Music," Odetta, has made her transition. Although Odetta Gordon's most popular songs included "The Times They Are A-Changin', " "Masters of War," "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," "Muleskinner Blues," she said of herself, in a Washington Post interview, that she was not a real folksinger. "I don't mind people calling me that, but I'm a musical historian. I'm a city kid who has admired an era and got into it. With folk music, I can do my teaching and preaching, my propagandizing."

Odetta called on her fellow Blacks to "take pride in the history of the American Negro" and was active in the civil rights movement. During the historic March On Washington in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ascended the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with the courageous Rosa Parks and legendary Odetta. Dr. King titled Odetta "Queen of American Folk Music." When she sang at the March on Washington in August 1963, the New York Times wrote, "Odetta's great, full throated voice carried to Capitol Hill."

The internationally acclaimed singer was hospitalized a week or so before Thanksgiving and suffered renal failure.

Everyday, while convalescing in Lenox Hill Hospital, Odetta looked on the historic glossy covering of the New York Amsterdam News, featuring a full-page photo of a triumphant President-elect Barack Obama. Odetta first came to prominence in the 1950s, during that time and after she influenced the artistry of Harry Belafonte, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and countless others who participated in the folk music surge. Belafonte cited her as a key influence on his hugely successful recording career. Odetta died Tuesday, December 2, at the age of 77, of heart disease at Lenox Hill Hospital, said her manager of 12 years, Douglas A. Yeager. Odetta performed 60 concerts in the last two years, singing for 90 minutes at a time in spite of her need to use a wheelchair and failing health. Odetta is survived by a daughter, Michelle Esrick of New York City, and a son, Boots Jaffre, of Fort Collins, Colo., said Yeager. A memorial is being planned.