Sad news this morning — the queen of American folk music, former Afrobella of the Week, Odetta, has passed away at the age of 77.

The New York Times obituary was truly touching, and Time Magazine has written a beautiful obit, which reads in part:

Her death on Dec. 2 in New York City at 77 from heart failure, coupled with that of South African singer Miriam Makeba three weeks ago, writes finis and fulfillment to 50 years of pursuing self-determination through song, of spreading the word through music. For a handful of black singers, their discography is an aural history, centuries deep, of abduction, enslavement, social and sexual abuse by the whites in power — and of the determination first to outlive the ignominy branded on the race, then to overcome it. In her commanding presence, charismatic delivery and determination to sing black truth to white power, Odetta was the female Paul Robeson.

She really was – Odetta used her talent to tell painful stories, and she used that powerful voice to reveal the legacy of slavery in many of her earliest performances.

Listen to that. She was a force of nature.

At the Newport Music Festival, she shared her guitar playing skills with impressed audiences of folk music fans.

Her song, Hit Or Miss, is one of my favorites. As she said in the lyrics, “can’t you see? I gotta be me – hit or miss.”

Odetta was always proudly herself, and her voice will last forever. Even in her later years, Odetta continued to perform to tremendous acclaim. This video of her singing “You Don’t Know My Mind” is one of her best.

Time Magazine goes on to reveal that Odetta did not get her final wish in life, to sing at Obama’s inauguration in January.

As she sank toward death in New York City, Odetta had an Obama poster taped on the wall across from her bed. Hospitalized with kidney failure on Monday, she kept willing herself to live because, her manager Doug Yeager wrote on a fansite just before her death, “Odetta believes she is going to sing at Obama’s inauguration and I believe that is the reason she is still alive.”

I am glad at the very least that Odetta got to see history made in November, when Barack Obama was elected president. For a woman who was so involved in the civil rights era, it must have felt like the fulfillment of a dream.

If you want to celebrate the spirit of Odetta, and enjoy the fullness of her voice, check out her remarkable Christmas album, Gonna Let it Shine. If you’re new to her music, you can’t go wrong with The Essential Odetta.

My heart goes out to Odetta’s family, and her fans around the world. Her talent and influence were immeasurable. To say that she will be missed is an understatement. Rest in Peace.

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Wes says:
December 3, 2008, 10:26 am
Nicely said. It really touched me how bad she wanted to sing at the inauguration- Bless her heart and may she rest in peace.
Nina says:
December 3, 2008, 11:17 am
Thank you so much for this tribute Afrobella. Odetta will be missed.
glamah( courtney) says:
December 3, 2008, 11:21 am
Great post. Thanks you for the words and the clips.
tester70 says:
December 3, 2008, 11:30 am
Wow, I hate to say I've never heard of her. I will be rectifying that ASAP.
nickiw says:
December 3, 2008, 1:34 pm
There have been so many great black women in music and music that isn't hip hop or R&B. Luckily, my mom (who grew up during the Motown era) introduced me to such great women: Miriam Makeba, Odetta, Nina Simone, Etta James, Dinah Washington, Billie Holliday, Mahalia Jackson just to name a few. It's unfortunate that so many young people haven't had the pleasure to learn and hear the contribution these women have made. Hopefully, we can all do our part to share this legacy. And thanks to Afrobella to doing your part. It is appreciated.
Eboneika Desire says:
December 3, 2008, 1:47 pm
this was one of your best entries. Thank you so much for this touching and loving ode to a legend.
WARRIOR11209 says:
December 3, 2008, 1:52 pm
Lovely entry - RIP Odetta, you will be truly missed!
TJ says:
December 3, 2008, 5:02 pm
Great post! To say she was a great voice in the history of the Civil Rights struggle and American history is such an understatement.
Shell says:
December 3, 2008, 6:44 pm
There is a wonderful video about Odetta at the New York Times website. It's about twenty minutes long. When I finished it, I found out she had died. I was crushed. Watching the video made me want to her live. She will be missed. We still have her music which is wonderful.
Toria says:
December 3, 2008, 10:55 pm
Not my style or taste in music but I guess it had its day. With all due respect, I can't imagine Obama inviting her to sing at his inauguration. I don't think her music would have appealed to most people Black or White. Still, I hope she rests in peace.
Jewelryrockstar says:
December 4, 2008, 6:01 am
I loved Odetta thanks for the post.
Mrs.Mckinzie says:
December 4, 2008, 7:03 am
RIP Odetta, you will truely be missed by your fans.
Andy says:
December 4, 2008, 2:58 pm
A touching and fitting tribute Bella. She would visit my country when I was a baby. My dad was a Protocol officer in Guyana in the early '70s and he would show her around Georgetown and take her to her cultural engagements and to meet dignitaries. I wish I could ask him what she was like - but he passed away earlier this year. Your previous post on Odetta really got me interested in her life story and music.
Regina says:
December 8, 2008, 10:13 am
A great loss of talent. May she rest in peace. Just as with Miriam Makeba, I am sad about the utter lack of public knowledge about her & her life.
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January 16, 2013, 3:49 pm
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