only one could be sure that every 50 years a voice and a soul like Odetta's
would come along, the centuries would pass so quickly and painlessly we would
hardly recognize time"
– Maya Angelou
The great Odetta passed away on Dec. 2 at the age of 77. She had
hospitalized following kidney failure, but she kept going, motivated by her
determination to perform at President Obama's inauguration in January. Sadly,
her performance there will only be in spirit.
I did not see Odetta perform live until 2002 at Harbourfront, where her
spirit, her power, her presence, her humour, and her strength were so
overwhelming, the experience will always remain with me.
There will be numerous articles and memorials to her, and I will post some of
the links here. Meantime, read the
New York Times obituary. Be sure to watch the 19 minute video
clip, and click the full-screen icon to best get the best sense of
Odetta's last recorded live performance was at the Ottawa Folk Festival in
September, 2008. It's available
here on CBC Radio 2's "Concerts
At her performances, she always spoke about her favourite song being "This Little
Light of Mine" (I'm Going to Let It Shine"). She would introduce it by
reading the words of Marianne Williamson:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is
that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that
most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you, not to be? You are a child of
God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. We were born to make
manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us;
it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give
other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own
fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
Odetta would then encourage the whole audience to sing
along... vigourously! Nobody was to worry if they were in tune or not. "If your neighbour looks
at you funny, just sing it louder... Let It Shine" she'd say.
Her light will always shine.