Odetta: A Life in Music and Protest

Ian Zack. Beacon, $28.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-8070-3532-0
Zack (Say No to the Devil) celebrates the life of guitarist-vocalist-lyricist Odetta Holmes (1930–2008) in this fascinating first full-length biography of the musician. Odetta blended jazz, blues, country, and folk and influenced generations of musicians, including Joan Baez, Miley Cyrus, Bob Dylan, and Rhiannon Giddens. “Her soaring vocals and preternatural ability to inhabit the characters she sang about left her predominantly white audiences spellbound,” Zack writes. He traces Odetta’s life from her birthplace in Birmingham, Ala., to Los Angeles, where she received opera lessons at 13 and performed in musical and theatrical ensembles. By the mid-1950s, she was performing folk music in San Francisco and New York City nightclubs. Zack provides a complete discography of her seminal recordings, which includes Odetta Sings Ballads and Odetta at the Gate of Horn. Throughout this expertly researched biography, Zack shares testimonies of friends and fellow musicians, including Harry Belafonte: “the people who heard her became deeply committed to a force and something that she brought to the table that was so artful.” A political activist, Odetta performed at the 1963 March on Washington, after which she would earn the moniker “The Voice of the Civil Rights Movement.” Odetta fans will delight in this timely biography. (Apr.)
Reviewed on : 12/12/2019
Release date: 04/14/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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