Odetta, who gave voice to the civil rights movement as it marched through the deep south in the 1950s and '60s died last night. She also helped Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) leader Stokley Charmichael and singers Bob Dylan and Joan Baez bring the fight for the civil rights to the Newport Folk Festival in 1963. I was 15 years old and still remember her performance and call to action vividly.
Odetta, born in Alabama, sang at the march on Washington in August 1963. Her song that day was “O Freedom,” dating to slavery days: “O freedom, O freedom, O freedom over me, And before I’d be a slave, I’d be buried in my grave, And go home to my Lord and be free.”
Rosa Parks, who helped start the boycott of segregated buses in Montgomery, Ala., was once asked which songs meant the most to her. She replied, “All of the songs Odetta sings.”
Odetta was 78 years old.