Folk song legend Odetta Holmes dies

December 4th, 2008 - 12:20 pm ICT by IANS  

Los Angeles, Dec 4 (DPA) Folk music legend and civil rights activist Odetta Holmes has died aged 77, her manager said.Holmes, a champion of African-American music and civil rights issues for more than half a century, died at the Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City from heart disease, her manager, Doug Yeager said.

“May Odetta’s luminous spirit and volcanic voice from the heavens live on for the ages,” Yeager said in a statement Tuesday. “Her voice will never die.”

Holmes influenced a generation of folk stars such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Bob Seeger and Woody Guthrie with a repertoire based on 19th century slave songs and spirituals.

“The first thing that turned me on to folk singing was Odetta,” Dylan said in a Playboy interview in 1978.

Born in Birmingham, Alabama on December 31, 1930, she moved to Los Angeles at the age of six with her mother, and trained as a classical vocalist. But traditional black folk music gave her the tools to voice her frustration with the racism of mid-century America and her first album The Tin Angel, in 1954, made her a fixture on the folk
music scene just as it was experiencing a commercial boom.

Her defining moment came during the August 1963 March on Washington, in which her rendition of the song “O Freedom” moved the crowd almost as much as Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

In 1999, she was awarded a National Medal of Arts by President Clinton. In 2004, she was a Kennedy Center honouree.

A year later, the Library of Congress honoured her with its Living Legend Award.

Holmes had performed over 60 concerts in the last two years despite being confined to a wheelchair and had hoped to sing at the January 20 inauguration of president-elect Barack Obama.

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