Odetta: In concert at HCC's Kepler Theater

January 10, 2001

Odetta: In concert at HCC's Kepler Theater

By MEG H. PARTINGTON / Staff Writer

Odetta, a Mountain Green concert

Saturday, Jan. 13, doors open at 7:30 p.m., concert starts at 8 p.m.

Kepler Theater

Hagerstown Community College


Tickets cost $15 for adults, $5 for those younger than 18; free for HCC students and staff. Tickets can be purchased in advance at Washington County Arts Council Gallery, 41 S. Potomac St. in Hagerstown, or at the door the night of the concert at 7 p.m.

For information, call 301-791-3132.

Odetta's entertainment career has spanned more than 50 years, and she figures she has about another quarter of a century left.



The woman sometimes called the Queen of American Folk Music said she plans to sing until she's 97, "even if I have three notes left."

Born Odetta Felious in 1930 in Birmingham, Ala., she was raised and schooled in Los Angeles since age 6. She started studying classical music and voice at 13, but knew she couldn't break through the racial barriers of major opera companies to pursue her dream.

"I knew the atmosphere I was in, and there was no point," said Odetta, 70, in a telephone interview from New York City. "I knew opera was out."

The climate is different now.

"You see more blacks, at least women," in classical music now, Odetta said.

At 18, she joined the chorus of a touring performance of "Finian's Rainbow." While in San Francisco, Odetta was exposed to folk music and learned to play guitar.

Her repertoire included Negro work songs, blues, jazz, spirituals, white Appalachian and English folk songs.

She said the "folk process" hasn't changed. Someone makes up a song, another person hears it, then re-creates it using his experiences.

In the 1960s, Odetta let her voice be heard in other ways.

She became actively involved in the civil rights movement, marching with The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Ala. She also sang at the 1963 March on Washington, and performed for President John F. Kennedy and his cabinet on "Dinner With The President," a nationally televised civil rights program.

She has performed hundreds of benefit concerts meant to protect the rights of various groups, including the poor, women and children, and those oppressed because of race, sex, sexual identification, religion or age.

"Causes have spread out," Odetta said. She said people are more aware now, but there are plenty of issues to get involved in, including political prisoners, homeless children and families and poisoned waters.

"The list goes on and on," she said. "Nobody can give you dignity."

Also in the 1960s, Odetta debuted in the film version of William Faulkner's "Sanctuary." She was cast as Tituba in "The Crucible" for Stratford Shakespeare Co. in Ontario and was guest hostess of the national children's radio show, "Spider's Web," for which she also performed the theme music.

What inspired Odetta to try stage and television?

"Somebody invited me to try something," she said, adding that she's always been a ham. "I'm a glutton ... as long as it doesn't insult me and mine and others on the face of this earth."

Odetta has used her voice to pay tribute to other musicians who influenced her life and work.

In the late 1990s, she released a live festival album "To Ella," recorded at the Kerrville Folk Festival in honor of Ella Fitzgerald.

"I admired Ella. She had an incredible instrument," Odetta said.

In 1999, she released her 27th solo album, "Blues Everywhere I Go," which honors Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Victoria Spivey, Sippie Wallace and Memphis Minnie.

Now she is working on an album of music from Huddie William Ledbetter, better known as Leadbelly.

Odetta's influences on the entertainment world haven't gone unnoticed.

In 1972, she was among the first group of people awarded the Duke Ellington Fellowship Award. Joining her in the honor were Marian Anderson, Paul Robeson and Eubie Blake.

Last year, she was honored as one of 19 recipients of The National Medal of The Arts and Humanities, along with Steven Spielberg, August Wilson, Maria Tallchief, Norman Lear, Aretha Franklin, Garrison Keeler and Rosetta LeNoire.

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