Thursday, 18 March 2010

Queen Odetta

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...


Howard Lane said...

I was very saddened to read his Guardian Obituary today, and surprised he had so many strings to his bow, including managing the wonderful Kilburn and the High Roads, later Ian Dury and the Blockheads.

He will be greatly missed. I especially liked his radio ping pong sessions.

Kate Gedge said...

Desperately Seeking Reviewer for UK premiere of Jordi Savall's Jerusalem on Sat 15 May 2010 at Norwich Theatre Royal. One for you?

Will said...

Marian Anderson had an incredible voice and a very strong grasp on various styles. Her Metropolitan Opera debut -- history making, and not Rudolf Bing's only move to break barriers* at the MET -- came when she was already in decline but it didn't matter one whit. She was such an icon that there could have been no possible objection to her breaking the color line. Bing then quickly engaged several other African-Americans to signal that Anderson's engagement was no symbolic gesture.

*He hired a man black-listed by the Joseph McCarthy gang at the height of their power.

David said...

Enlightening about Bing, Will, thanks.

Kate - if it's connected to the CDs then, yes, I'd love to hear it. Trouble is Arts Desk has no budget to send us north, south, east and west, su unless we're going already, it's a problem. And I have to say that where Savall is concerned, I'm a bit of a novice - curious, but not my rep.