The great Odetta has left us for that heavenly choir, where she’ll join Laura … and Dusty, Billie, Janis, Marvin, Eddie, David, Sam, Mahalia, Ella, Sarah and so many other great voices. What a mighty sound!
I just wrote about Odetta here, and of my fond memory of her singing “Take Me to the Pilot” with Elton John in the 1970s. I knew she wasn’t well, but so hoped she could make it to the Obama inauguration. Her spirit will certainly be there.
My friend Jennifer Warnes passed along to me this letter, written yesterday, from Odetta’s manager:
Dear Family and Friends of Odetta,
The Grand Lady Odetta passed this evening at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. For more than a decade she fought the brave fight with chronic heart disease and pulmonary fibrosis in her lungs. The tribute concert in her honor on March 24, 2007 in Washington was supposed to be her swan song. At the time, her doctors said she could never leave her bed without oxygen for the remainder of her life. However, she got out of that bed and went on to give dozens of concerts around the world since that time. Just seven weeks ago, she performed before tens of thousands of fans at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park with Emmylou Harris, Robert Plant, Elvis Costello, T-Bone Burnett and Wavy Gravy sitting mesmerized below her at the stage. Even though she had been getting weaker through the month she refused to cancel any of her upcoming concerts. However, on October 31st, after returning from concerts in Toronto she entered the hospital for tests. The next day she went into kidney failure. For the next three and one half weeks she battled on–at all times lucid, and determined to sing at Obama’s Inauguration. She went into cardiac arrest this evening. Her old heart just couldn’t fight any more. Her spirit, her will and her determination were greater than anyone I had ever known. I don’t think Joe Louis could have lasted one round with Odetta!
Eighteen months ago, Odetta and I were invited to the publisher’s office of The New York Times to give her oral history obituary. The arrangement with them was that we would not tell anyone about the oral history obituary, that they would be the first to publish her obituary, and that the readers could then view the oral obit Odetta gave by clicking on The New York Times website. Because I didn’t get back from the hospital after Odetta’s transition until 10:00 pm tonight and wasn’t able to speak to Tim Weiner, the Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist who interviewed her, until 10:45 pm, I don’t think it will be making the front page, but has been given royal treatment. [See it here.]
May Odetta’s luminous spirit and volcanic voice from the heavens live on for the ages. Though I know she will always be with me, I will be missing her. . .
Manager of Odetta
And finally, here’s another photo of Odetta taken at the McCabe’s tribute on October 2 at UCLA’s Royce Hall (the photographer is Matt Kramer, who I knew decades ago when he did the lighting for Laura and others at the Troubadour!). L to R is quite a lineup: Eric Andersen (anyone remember him?), Lincoln Myerson (the concert director at McCabe’s), The Grand Lady, Jackson Browne (Laura’s one-time lover!), Jennifer and the great Van Dyke Parks (who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting). Didn’t Odetta look so full of life and joy?