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Odetta Gordon

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Information about Odetta Gordon

Profile image of Odetta Gordon

Profession

Category:
CivicMakers
MusicMakers
Occupation(s):
Civil Rights Activist
Folk Singer
Songwriter

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Purple
Favorite Food:
All Food
Favorite Time of Year:
Fall, Spring
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Home
Favorite Quote:
God Bless You.

Birthplace

Born:
12/31/1930
Birth Location:
Birmingham, Alabama

Profession

Category:
CivicMakers
MusicMakers
Occupation(s):
Civil Rights Activist
Folk Singer
Songwriter

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Purple
Favorite Food:
All Food
Favorite Time of Year:
Fall, Spring
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Home
Favorite Quote:
God Bless You.

Birthplace

Born:
12/31/1930
Birth Location:
Birmingham
See how Odetta Gordon is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

Anointed as the queen of American folk music by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Odetta Gordon, a coloratura soprano, was born Odetta Holmes on December 31, 1930 in Birmingham, Alabama. When she lost her father, Rueben Holmes, at a young age, her mother, Flora, remarried and gave the children their stepfather’s name, Felious. Moving to Los Angeles with her family in 1936 at age six, Odetta began studying classical music. After graduating from high school, she attended Los Angeles City College where she study classical opera before being introduced to folk music.

In 1947, Odetta began her professional touring in the musical Finian’s Rainbow. Her first job as a folksinger came in San Francisco, where she quickly won over audiences. In 1953, when she came to New York, Harry Belafonte and Pete Seeger were instrumental in introducing her to larger audiences. In 1959, Belafonte included her in a major television special, which made her name nationally known. In 1954, Odetta recorded her first album for Fantasy Records. In 1963, she released Folk Songs, which became one of the year’s best-selling folk albums.

As an activist for social change, Odetta performed at the 1963 March on Washington and took part in the March on Selma. She performed for President Kennedy and his cabinet on the nationally televised civil rights special, Dinner with the President. Her career blossomed during the golden years of folk music when she began recording albums for Vanguard Records. Odetta has sung with symphony orchestras and in operas all over the world and has been a featured performer everywhere in the country, including the Newport Folk Festivals and in her solo concerts at Carnegie Hall.

Odetta has also acted in films such as The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and has starred in countless television specials, such as BBC-TV’s Concert Special, Talking Bob Dylan Blues. She has also hosted the Montreux Jazz Festival. Having been inspired by the great contralto Marian Anderson and having herself inspired such revered artists as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Janis Joplin, it is no wonder that among her countless other achievements, her album, Blues Everywhere I Go (2000), was nominated for a Grammy. In 1999, Odetta was awarded the National Medal of Arts & Humanities by President Bill Clinton and the first lady. On Saturday, March 24, 2007, Odetta was honored by the World Folk Music Association with a lifetime tribute concert called, ODETTA – A Celebration of Life & Music at the Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria, Virginia.

Odetta passed away on December 2, 2008 at the age of 77.

Odetta was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on March 17, 2006.

See how Odetta Gordon is related to other HistoryMakers
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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Odetta Gordon's interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Odetta Gordon lists her favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Odetta Gordon describes her childhood in Birmingham, Alabama and Los Angeles, California
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Odetta Gordon talks about her mother and her biological father
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Odetta Gordon recalls her mother supporting the family after her stepfather's hospitalization
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Odetta Gordon describes her grandparents
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Odetta Gordon describes Hollywood's portrayal of African Americans
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Odetta Gordon recalls positive role models from her childhood
  • Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Odetta Gordon describes early influences on her music
  • Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Odetta Gordon describes the early influences on her interest in music
  • Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Odetta Gordon describes her childhood personality and self-image
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Odetta Gordon describes how racial discrimination affected her self-image
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Odetta Gordon recalls discovering folk music as an outlet for her anger
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Odetta Gordon describes her early experience in classical music and singing in 'Finian's Rainbow' and 'Guys and Dolls'
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Odetta Gordon recalls her introduction to folk music
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Odetta Gordon recalls pioneering natural hair while singing at the Tin Angel nightclub
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Odetta Gordon talks about American folk music
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Odetta Gordon talks about wearing her hair naturally
  • Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Odetta Gordon recalls folk music healing her self-hatred
  • Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Odetta Gordon talks about her siblings
  • Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Odetta Gordon recalls singing at a Paul Robeson concert in Los Angeles, California
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Odetta Gordon talks about seeing Paul Robeson in Los Angeles, California
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Odetta Gordon talks about playing the guitar
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Odetta Gordon talks about her political activism at the March on Washington
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Odetta Gordon describes her folk songs' political nature
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Odetta Gordon recalls moving to New York City
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Odetta Gordon recalls her religious experiences as a child
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Odetta Gordon describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood in Los Angeles, California
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Odetta Gordon recalls singing in 'Finian's Rainbow' and 'Guys and Dolls'
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Odetta Gordon recalls her exposure to the folk music repertoire
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Odetta Gordon describes her social life in San Francisco, California
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Odetta Gordon remembers being hired to sing at the Tin Angel nightclub in San Francisco, California
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Odetta Gordon recalls performing at the Tin Angel nightclub in San Francisco, California
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Odetta Gordon talks about singing at the Blue Angel nightclub in New York City
  • Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Odetta Gordon talks about meeting prominent singers during her folk music career
  • Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Odetta Gordon recalls recording her first album in 1954
  • Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Odetta Gordon talks about becoming involved in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Odetta Gordon talks about her contemporary folksingers
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Odetta Gordon describes the March on Washington in 1963
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Odetta Gordon describes her marriage to Danny Gordon
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Odetta Gordon explains what kept her from reading books
  • Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Odetta Gordon talks about performing for President John F. Kennedy on the civil rights special 'Dinner with the President'
  • Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Odetta Gordon talks about performing at the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965
  • Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Odetta Gordon describes her experiences with record companies
  • Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Odetta Gordon describes how she presented herself as an artist
  • Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Odetta Gordon describes her family's pride in her career
  • Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Odetta Gordon describes her experience at the Newport Folk Festival in Newport, Rhode Island
  • Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Odetta Gordon remembers performing at Carnegie Hall in New York City
  • Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Odetta Gordon recalls appearing in the film 'The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman'
  • Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Odetta Gordon talks about her interest in acting
  • Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Odetta Gordon reflects upon her life
  • Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Odetta Gordon reflects upon inspiring other artists
  • Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Odetta Gordon recalls receiving the National Medal of Arts and Humanities from President Bill Clinton in 1999
  • Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Odetta Gordon recalls arranging Bob Dylan's songs for the record 'Odetta Sings Dylan'
  • Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Odetta Gordon describes her fondness for spiritual Christmas music
  • Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Odetta Gordon reflects upon her future in music
  • Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Odetta Gordon describes her recollections of past lives
  • Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Odetta Gordon describes her hopes for the African American community
  • Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Odetta Gordon describes how she would like to be remembered
  • Tape: 6 Story: 11 - Odetta Gordon sings 'Glory Hallelujah'