Posts Tagged ‘Odetta’

We’ve Done Much But Still Have Much To Do

November 30, 2011

Originally posted January 19, 2009

The two events on consecutive days are an opinion writer’s dream.

I’m talking, of course, about the unique juxtaposition of today’s national holiday commemorating the life and contributions of the Rev. Martin Luther King with tomorrow’s inauguration of Barack Obama as the nation’s first African-American president. Some editorial writers and columnist may tell that we have achieved our goal and left division behind. Others will tell us we have made a good start. I lean toward the latter view. Still, there is no doubt that there is much to celebrate. After Mr. Obama takes the oath of office, we can all rejoice that we as a nation are so much closer than we were to keeping the promises made in our founding documents.

There is here a reluctance to write much about race relations in the United States (or anywhere, for that matter). Why? Because I stand on the wrong side of the divide to truly know what the state of those relations is and has been. I can read, I can listen, I can guess. But I can never know. What I have observed in my lifetime makes me hopeful, but when I try to write about the topic, I find myself stumbling around like a blindfolded man in a dark house: I have no assurance that I know what I am doing or where I am headed.

(I recall the tale of another man who stood on the same side of that divide as I do. In 1959, writer John Howard Griffin, who was white, darkened his skin with the help of a doctor and spent six weeks traveling as an African American man through Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia. For anyone, but especially for those who see the 1950s and 1960s as distant history, if I could suggest one book that might provide a glimpse of what life was like in the segregated southern states in the U.S., it would be Black Like Me.)

As we celebrate and remember today and tomorrow, one of the things that I hope that we all keep in mind is that we have just begun to keep our promises. And those promises were sworn not only to those with darker skin colors but also to those with colder homes, emptier plates, fewer opportunities and far more challenges than most of us in this nation have to deal with. The racial divide still exists, of course, and those on both sides need to continue to keep faith. But the deeper divide, I think, is economic, and that divide – aggravated, no doubt, by the dismal economic news of recent months – leaves far too many of us in want. And I doubt whether those shackled by economic need are truly free.

This is certainly a darker piece than I intended to write. I don’t want anyone to get the idea that I do not celebrate the vast progress we have made in the U.S. nor the remarkable achievement of this nation in electing Barack Obama as its president. I am pleased and encouraged both historically and in the moment. There is much yet to be done, and we need to remember that in the days, months and years to come. But we have come a long way, and that is worth celebrating.

Here’s some music to mark these moments:

“Chimes of Freedom” by the Byrds from Mr. Tambourine Man, 1965

“A Ray of Hope” by the Rascals from Freedom Suite, 1969

“We Shall Overcome” by Bruce Springsteen & the Seeger Sessions Band from We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions-American Land Edition, 2006

“I Want My Freedom” by Marie Queenie Lyons from Soul Forever, 1970

“Freedom Blues” by Little Richard, Reprise 0907, 1970

“We Shall Be Free” by Maria Muldaur, Odetta, Joan Baez & Holly Near from Yes We Can, 2008

Some of these are well known and obvious. Little Richard certainly isn’t among the lesser-known here, but his 1970s releases are. “Freedom Blues” was pulled from The Rill Thing, one of several albums Little Richard recorded for Reprise in the early 1970s. (A few years ago, Rhino Handmade produced a limited CD reissue of those albums; copies currently run at about $150.)

I don’t know much about Marie Queenie Lyons. Soul Forever is the only album of hers listed at All-Music Guide. The recording comes from a post at My Blog Too. There’s some information about her and her connection to James Brown at Sir Shambling’s Deep Soul Heaven.*

Of the albums listed, my favorite is the final one, Yes We Can, on which Maria Muldaur draws together a bunch of friends and a great bunch of politically charged songs that serve as calls to action. One need not agree with the performers’ politics to enjoy the music.

*My Blog Too has been deleted since this piece was posted. Note added November 30, 2011.

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Odetta, Curtis & Leonard

October 12, 2011

Originally posted December 4, 2008

Being that it’s Thursday, I thought I’d wander around YouTube as I frequently do, seeing what I find that connects with recent posts.

Here’s a potent performance by Odetta of the folk classic “The House of the Rising Sun.” Most folks know this from the Animals’ 1964 version, but the Animals – or so says writer Dave Marsh – learned it from Bob Dylan’s version, and Dylan learned it from folk singer Dave Van Ronk, and who knows where Van Ronk got it. I’m sure that somewhere on a library shelf is an account of where the song originated. New Orleans, of course, is too easy a guess. Anyway, here’s Odetta, live in 2005. (The notes at YouTube say that this performance was part of a concert recorded for a live release, but the only live CD release listed on Odetta’s All Music Guide discography that might work on that timeline is am undated release on Fantasy, and no video/DVD releases are listed, so I have no idea where this can be found.)

Here’s a clip of Curtis Mayfield performing “Future Shock” on Soul Train, most likely on the November 10, 1973, show:

Then, here’s Leonard Cohen performing “The Future” during his May 12, 1993, performance on the BBC’s Later with Jools Holland. For those interested in censorship or self-editing – and I don’t know which this was – note how what had been “anal sex” on the CD became “careless sex” during the television performance.

Enjoy! I’ll be back tomorrow with an experiment that reminds me of a long-ago annual event.

Odetta Holmes, 1930-2008

October 12, 2011

Originally posted December 3, 2008

I saw Odetta in concert once, sometime around 1971. I vaguely knew her name, and I somehow knew that she’d played a role in the 1950s folk revival and the civil rights movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s.

So I talked Rick into going along with me, and we sat in pretty good seats in Stewart Hall Auditorium at St. Cloud State. And we listened as a dignified, almost severe, African American woman sang songs we’d mostly never heard before, accompanied only by her spare guitar playing. The music of Odetta, who died in New York City Tuesday at the age of seventy-seven, was nothing like the music we were accustomed to hearing. But we listened, pulled into the performance by the clarity of her voice, the messages of the songs and the warm humanity of her performance.

I can’t say that hearing her in concert made me run out and buy her records. But I stored her name away as one of the important artists I’d seen and heard, mentally filing Odetta in the folder filled with the names of artists I’d someday learn more about. To be honest, I’ve never done that. I’ve heard a few things, taken some CDs out of the library in the past ten years, but I’ve never dug too deeply into her catalog.

I was aware, nevertheless, that Odetta was one of the major folk artists of the 1950s and early 1960s, lending her voice and her stature to the struggles of those times. I was unsurprised to read this morning that she was one of the artists who performed during the March on Washington in August 1963. The New York Times reports: “Her song that day was ‘O Freedom,’ dating to slavery days: ‘O freedom, O freedom, O 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.’”

There will no doubt be other blogs whose operators can write more knowingly than can I about Odetta, her music, and her influence on American music, culture and history, so I’ll defer to them and let Odetta’s music do the talking.

I’ve pulled together six of her recordings, two from the later portion of her classic folk period and four from recent years, when she was once again recording regularly. The credits at All-Music Guide for Blues Everywhere I Go list Dr. John and Seth Farber on piano, but on both tracks I’m offering here, it sounds like Dr. John. (Unfortunately, the AMG credits don’t identify who played guitar.) And sadly, I don’t have any credits for Looking For A Home, which was a tribute to the late folk-blues artists Leadbelly (but I’d swear I hear the good doctor on those tracks, too).

A Six-Pack of Odetta

“This Little Light Of Mine” from Odetta Sings Folk Songs, 1963

“Masters of War” from Odetta Sings Dylan, 1965

“W.P.A. Blues” from Blues Everywhere I Go, 1999

“Homeless Blues” from Blues Everywhere I Go, 1999

“Rock Island Line” from Looking For A Home, 2001

“Bourgeois Blues” from Looking For A Home, 2001