Published January 1, 2009
(RNS) Odetta, the folk singer whose deep and powerful voice became a soundtrack for the civil rights movement of the 1960s, died Dec. 1 in New York after a decade-long fight with heart disease. She was 77.
Born Odetta Holmes, in Birmingham, Ala., on Dec. 31, 1930, she was one of the most well-known folk and blues singers of the 1950s and 1960s; her rich voice was equally at home in the anguish of prison and work songs, the gentlest of English ballads, as well as the anger and hope of spirituals.
But it was at the 1963 March on Washington, where Martin Luther King Jr., gave his “I Have a Dream” speech and Odetta sang the slave-era “O Freedom,” with its lines “before I’d be a slave, I’d be buried in my grave, and go home to my Lord and be free” that forever linked her voice with the hopes, aspirations, and tragedies of the movement.
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