Thursday, 18 March 2010
It's wonderful to come across a great artist for the first time, but I blush to say that until our friend Juliette in Jerusalem told us we must hear Odetta, I'd never heard of the woman Martin Luther King called 'the queen of American folk music' (Odetta joined him as a self-styled 'private' in the Civil Rights Movement's marches and campaigns). She was a huge influence on Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Harry Belafonte among others, and I like Maya Angelou's poetic tribute, even if I don't entirely understand it: 'If only one could be sure that every 50 years a voice and a soul like Odetta's would come along, the centuries would pass so quickly and painlessly we would hardly recognize time.'
Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Odetta would have been an opera singer if her mother had prevailed, but, we read, she 'doubted a large black girl would ever perform at the Metropolitan Opera'. Touring in Finian's Rainbow, she met a group of folkies in San Francisco and turned to the style that made her famous. This incredible little film shows her earlier heart and soul. It's out of synch for the first ten seconds but rights itself so that you get the full audiovisual impact of the guitar thwacks.
So thank you, Julie. I look forward to the CDs I've ordered up, and we need immediate release on DVD of the complete concert from which that deeply moving 'House of the Rising Sun' is taken.
Of course on YouTube one thing leads to another, and in discovering Odetta performances of spirituals appropriated by the Bible belt, I also came across Marian Anderson, Odetta's mother's idol, in a full symphonic treatment of 'Deep River'. What control, what vocal colour and range.
Anyway, I imagine 'world music' pioneer Charlie Gillett, who's died at the age of 68 and whose programmes on the BBC World Service I so enjoyed, must have been wowed by Odetta (how could he not be?) I was amused to read that his own label had a success with Lene Lovich's 'Lucky Number', hit of our youth. And so from the sublime to the enjoyably ridiculous...