Singer Odetta Is Dead at 77

Published December 4, 2008

Posted Dec. 4, 2008 – Odetta Holmes, one of the major voices of the Civil Rights Movement and a major musical influence in the 1960s, has died. She was 77. 

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She was admitted to Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City for a checkup in mid-November but went into kidney failure. She died there Tuesday of heart disease, her manager, Doug Yeager, told The Associated Press.

The classically trained folk, blues and gospel singer who went by her first name professionally, used her powerfully rich and dusky voice to champion African-American music and civil rights issues for more than a half-century, starting in the folk revival of the 1950s.

She was trained as a classical vocalist as a child and later discovered folk music, which she said “really touched where I live.” She became an inspiration to other singers and eventually received a National Medal of Arts and a Living Legend Award. She was said to have influenced the emergence of artists as varied as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Janis Joplin and Tracy Chapman, The Los Angeles Times writes.

"The first thing that turned me on to folk singing was Odetta," Dylan once said. "From Odetta, I went to Harry Belafonte, the Kingston Trio, little by little uncovering more as I went along."

Written by BET-Staff

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