Wednesday, December 3, 2008
ode to odetta
If you can't fly, run. If you can't run, walk. If you can't walk, crawl. Any way you can make it baby, you keep on moving it on... - Odetta
The last time I saw Odetta, she shuffled across the floor, gingerly, with a unflappable determination as if an invisible chord was pulling her to a chair waiting at center stage. And then she opened her soul and started to sing with the same booming voice that I'd heard years before in Philadelphia and before that in Boston and before that in London and before that in Madison...it's a voice that comes deep from the belly of mother earth. That chord could well be an umbilical chord reaching back to something primal.
Odetta made harmony of discord. She marched with Martin Luther King in Selma. She performed for Kennedy in 1963 at the peak of her career. She didn't mind that people called her a folksinger, but she was so much more than that. She was the reason Bob Dylan sold his electric guitar and picked up an acoustic. She was a music historian who transcended musical form. She moved me.
Odetta wore a crystal at her third eye and had skin the color of chocolate that stretched, unwrinkled, across high cheekbones. She carried herself like royalty, poised and confident. She would sing and tell stories with an intensity only matched by her audience. Where ever I sat in the concert hall, I always had the feeling that I was sitting at the knee of a someone old and wise enough to speak the truth without fear.
Odetta died yesterday at 77 years of age. She'd been hoping to sing at Obama's inauguration. She will be singing in me forever.
If you can't walk, crawl. If you can't crawl, sing (my addition)...Anyway you can make it baby, you keep on moving it on.
Link to Odetta singing House of the Rising Sun