Odetta gone at 77

Odetta, one of the great voices of our time died earlier this month.

I first heard her voice on ‘Rawhide’, Max Feguson‘s CBC radio show during the mid-1950s. Feguson, always in character as his host, old Rawhide, featured an eclectic variety of music and performers and Odetta was only one of many talents that he showcased.

One thing that has always stayed in my memory was one Christmas season when Ferguson played a recording of Odetta singing Silent Night. It was a gorgeous rendition of the old Christmas carol. The following week he received a letter, which he read on air, from a woman complaining about playing that most holy of carols sung by ‘that woman’. The letter writer never said just what it was that offended her, but I could only assume that it was because because Odetta was a black woman and somehow that should have disqualified her from singing Silent Night, or at least having it played on the airwaves.

What I do remember is Ferguson sounding uncomfortable and embarrassed, not by being taken to task for his song selection, but by the abysmal ignorance of the woman writing the letter.

Because of the genre of her music, Odetta never became a household name. But that really isn’t important. She left an amazing legacy and it is unlikely that we will ever again hear a voice with her power, emotion and soul.

Indeed, in my opinion, she truly deserves the title of First Lady of Soul.

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