Odetta, “The Voice of the Civil Rights Movement” (1930-2008)

By Jonathan Adams Dec 03, 2008

Odetta, most famous for singing at the March on Washington in 1963, will not be able to perform as she intended at Barack Obama’s inauguration next month. The woman, known as "the voice of the Civil Rights Movement," became famous among musicians like Joan Baez and Bob Dylan but did not consider herself a folk singer.

"I’m not a real folk singer," she told The Washington Post in 1983. "I don’t mind people calling me that, but I’m a musical historian. I’m a city kid who has admired an area and who got into it. I’ve been fortunate. With folk music, I can do my teaching and preaching, my propagandizing." In The Washington Post interview, Odetta theorized that humans developed music and dance because of fear, "fear of God, fear that the sun would not come back, many things. I think it developed as a way of worship or to appease something. … The world hasn’t improved, and so there’s always something to sing about."[Associated Press]

Odetta died Tuesday after battling heart disease. She was 77.