Volume 78 - Number 28 / December 10 - 16, 2008 West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Villager file photo
Odetta being honored with the first annual Village Music Legends Award last month.
A letter to Obama about Odetta; She can still sing
Barack Obama, Esq. Chicago, Illinois
Dear Mr. President-elect:
I dont know if you ever heard her when you were growing up all over the map, but you must have heard her when you were here at Columbia University in the early 1980s and she, one of the great folk singers, was still in full heart-swelling voice.
Almost the last thing she ever said whispered aloud to a roomful of Greenwich Villagers at New York Universitys Torch Club early last month was her pride that we now have a black man as president of the United States. She told those around her that she wanted to sing at his inauguration.
Then, that night at the Torch Club, so low that you could hardly hear her from only a few feet away, the 77-year-old Odetta crooned one of the old hymns of the civil-rights movement to which shed once lent so much strength, When I Lay My Burden Down.
Three weeks later Tuesday, December 2, 2008, at Lenox Hill Hospital that heart finally gave out.
When I saw her at N.Y.U., I was shattered, said Art DLugoff, the folk, blues and jazz impresario whod been her friend for 50 years, booking her dozens of times from the 1950s on into his Village Gate on Bleecker Street.
I first heard that voice terrific, unbelievable in a Croatian church on West 43rd Street, said DLugoff. She was then living in Chicago. I sent her the princely sum of $25 to fly to New York and get together with me. I booked her again and again and again a folk artist I loved and adored.
She was an influence on everybody: Bob Dylan, whod originally come to New York as a rock-n-roller. Harry Belafonte, Janis Ian, Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, Tracy Chapman everybody.
She loved to mingle and talk, said DLugoff. We always talked politics. Woody Allen who broke in as a stand-up at the Gate I dont think I ever spoke 200 words with him. John Coltrane, maybe 15.
Fifteen. But Odetta, she loved the world. Loved showing up in different dresses. Not a tremendously heavy person, but a large person. She wasnt skinny hows that?
DLugoff was proud to say I was at the March on Washington, and she sang there. She also sang for John F. Kennedy in the White House, and years later, in 1999, President Bill Clinton presented her with an N.E.A. Medal of the Arts and Humanities.
So here we are, and Odetta is gone. She will not be able to sing at the inauguration of Barack Obama not in person. But, Mr. President-elect, her voice that voice could still be there by other means.
Perhaps someone on your staff could arrange for a CD to play at some point on January 20, 2009 perhaps her 2007 Grammy Award CD of Going To Let It Shine. Douglas Yeager, her manager (212-245-0240 or firstname.lastname@example.org), would be glad to provide the CD.
With all best wishes for the next four years. Let it shine.