Café Mouffe: Fair Thee Well, Odetta

I can’t imagine folk music in the 60s – or the civil rights movement, for that matter – without the strong, steady voice of Odetta. She died Wednesday at age 77. This Mouffe’s for her.

According to her NYT obituary, Odetta had hoped in her last days to sing at the inauguration of President Barack Obama. It would have completed a circle in her 60-year struggle for social justice:

Odetta’s voice was an accompaniment to the black-and-white images of the freedom marchers who walked the roads of Alabama and Mississippi and the boulevards of Washington to end racial discrimination.

Rosa Parks, whose refusal to give up her seat to a white passenger led to the boycott of segregated buses in Montgomery, Ala., was once asked which songs meant the most to her. “All of the songs Odetta sings,” she replied.

One of those songs was “I’m on My Way,” sung during the pivotal civil-rights March on Washington on Aug. 28, 1963. In a videotaped interview with The New York Times in 2007 for its online feature “The Last Word,” Odetta recalled the sentiments of another song she performed that day, “Oh Freedom,” which is rooted in slavery: “Oh freedom, Oh freedom, Oh 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.” Read more.

The clips featured here were recorded for The Woodsongs Old-Time Radio Hour. No recording dates are available, but Midnight Special and  Careless Love display Odetta’s singular presence late in her career.

Encore: See the snippets from the Newport Folk Festival and Water Boy for a sense of Odetta’s young voice. Who knew that she sang What A Friend We Have In Jesus with Tennessee Ernie Ford in 1960? It’s an unbelievable moment in the history of country music. And for farewells, listen to her sing from her wheelchair at a Sister Rosetta Tharpe benefit concert in January 2008. The tune is  “Bourgeois Town,” Ledbelly’s wry protest song about Washington, D.C. That song, too, will come full circle on Jan. 20 when Barack Obama becomes President of the United States.

Café Mouffe opens evry Friday ’round 3 p.m.  Please drop by for a listen and a chat. Sometimes the embedded videos don’t work here due to bandwidth constraints, but you’ll always find links to video sources in the notes. Try them. If you’re curious about the Mouffe, here’s the original idea behind it’s creation.

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