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Odetta’s birthday December 31, 1930

December 31, 2010

Please take a few minutes today to consider Odetta who would have been 80 years old today but passed away in late 2008. She is among the most powerful, most inspirational and most-respected role models in American culture over more than six decades. It seems that every artist and leader of our generation was influenced by her. Even Bob Dylan said “the first thing that turned me on to folk singing was Odetta”.  She is perhaps most famous for her role in civil rights movement and her popularizing the songs “We Shall Overcome” and “This Little Light of Mine” (a pop version, certainly not the best combined version, at

She’s been a significant influence on me since my teens. My favorite was perhaps her rendition of “Midnight Special” that left you feeling like were really sitting there in a Mississippi jail cell listening to the sound from distant tracks. I finally met her about eight years ago; it felt like being in the presence of a saint.

Some of her last recordings are signing “This Little Light of Mine” at and “House of the Rising Sun” at in 2008 at the Music has Power Awards. Even though her body and voice were weakened by cancer, you can still feel the influence she has over the audience.

When she died, I posted a short message on my blog titled “May we know this together I hope that powerful language like the passage she uses here may continue to influence my writing. This concert is available on Folkalley includes a version of “Goodnight Irene” at with Tom Paxton and Louden Wainwritght III which of course has personal significance to the Novaks (my mother’s name; she died at a young age in 1972). In this version, she even pokes fun at football.

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