On this day in 2008, Odetta Gordon died at the age of 77 in New York City, New York.
Born on December 31, 1930 in Birmingham, Alabama, her mother and stepfather moved the family to Los Angeles in 1936. Shortly after, Gordon developed her interest in classical music. After graduating high school, she enrolled at Los Angeles City College, studying classical opera and then folk music.
Odetta began touring professionally in 1947 with the musical Finian’s Rainbow. In San Francisco, she won over audiences, encouraging her to continue following her dreams. In 1953, upon arriving in New York, Odetta was selected by Harry Belafonte and Pete Seeger to take part in a major television special. This led her to national fame.
Her first album, recorded with Fantasy Records, was released in 1954. It became one of the best-selling folk albums of the year. In 1963, Odetta performed at the March on Washington and also participated in the March on Selma. During the golden years of folk music, her career reached its peak. She performed for President Kennedy, sung in operas all over the world, and has been named a featured performer by the Newport Folk Festival.
Additionally, Odetta has acted in several films and television specials, including The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and BBC-TV’s Concert Special, Talking Bob Dylan Blues. Inspired by artists such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Janis Joplin, her 2000 album, Blues Everywhere I Go, was nominated for a Grammy.
Odetta has received numerous awards and honors throughout her career, including the National Medal of Arts & Humanities, presented to her by President Bill Clinton. In 2007, the World Folk Music Association honored her with a tribute concert in Alexandria, Virginia called ODETTA – A Celebration of Life & Music.
Odetta died at the age of 77 on December 2, 2008.