The Voice Behind the Civil Rights Movement

Who is Odetta Holmes?

Odetta Holmes, born December 31, 1930, was an American Folk Singer who was noted especially for her versions of spirituals and who became for many the voice of the civil rights movement of the early 1960s.

Though she had heard the music of the Deep South as a child, it was not until 1950, on a trip to San Francisco that she began to appreciate and participate in the emergent folk scene. She soon learned to play the guitar and began to perform traditional songs. Her distinctive blend of folk, blues ballads, and spirituals was powered by her rich vocal style, wide range, and deep passion.

In the early 1950's, she moved to New York City where she met singers Pete Seeger and Harry Belafonte. Her debut solo recording, Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues (1965) was soon followed by At the Gate of Horn (1957). She performed at the Newport (Rhode Island) Folk Festival four times during 1959-65 and she subsequently appeared on television and in several films.

As a young adult during the folk music revival of the mid-1950s and ’60s, she began a career that had her performing in San Francisco at the War Memorial Opera House and clubs like the Tin Angel on the Embarcadero. Appearing on the East Coast in New York City nightclubs and on tour in venues worldwide, Odetta’s concerts were a hybrid blend of folk tunes, spirituals, chain gang work songs, children’s music, and jazz standards. The jazz was more successfully rendered in her later years, when her smooth contralto voice weathered and her onstage anxiety was ground down by a life of hard blows.

-National Medal of Arts
-War Resisters League Peace Award

"You're walking down life's road, society's foot is on your throat, every which way you turn you can't get from under that foot. And you reach a fork in the road and you can either lie down and die, or insist upon your life." -Odetta Holmes

Some of Odetta Holmes Songs:

By:Anya Davis

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