@ National Portrait Gallery
DescriptionSince the early 1950s, Odetta has been recognized as one of folk music's most compelling interpreters. Introduced to this musical genre just as the folk revival was gaining momentum, she wholeheartedly embraced the ballads, work songs, blues, and spirituals that so vividly evoked the experiences of generations of African Americans. Her powerful voice and distinctive guitar playing soon earned her an enthusiastic following that included performers Pete Seeger and Harry Belafonte, who helped to champion her career. The growth of the civil rights movement coincided with Odetta's rising popularity, and as her political engagement grew, her songs became weapons in the struggle for justice. "As I was singing, I was one of those things that was smoldering," Odetta later recalled. In 1963 she joined the March on Washington and rallied the crowd with her moving rendition of the spiritual "Oh Freedom."
Gelatin Silver Print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Mr. and Mrs. Bob Willoughby