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Odetta: A Life in Music and Protest

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  63 ratings  ·  24 reviews
The first in-depth biography of the legendary singer and "Voice of the Civil Rights Movement," who combatted racism and prejudice through her music.

Odetta channeled her anger and despair into some the most powerful folk music the world has ever heard. Through her lyrics and iconic persona, Odetta made lasting political, social, and cultural change.

A leader of the 1960s fol
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published April 14th 2020 by Beacon Press
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Average rating 4.10  · 
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4.5 stars

A fascinating, timely, and balanced biography!

Dec 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir-bio, music
an overdue and long-deserved bio of the folk singer and civil rights activist, ian zack's odetta: a life in music and protest chronicles a remarkable life and career. never afforded the success nor acclaim that should've rightly been her due, odetta's legacy nonetheless remains highly influential for generations of musicians. from her childhood in alabama to her participation in the march on washington to her later resurgence (and eventual national medal for arts and kennedy center honors), zack ...more
Mar 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a unique and well-researched biography of Odetta, the singer who was in the vanguard of the folk movement. She was the inspiration for many that followed, including artists like Peter, Paul, and Mary and Bob Dylan. Odetta went against tradition by keeping her hair natural, which in the 1950's was unheard of, and used her powerful voice not only to bring traditional songs to the public, but also in support of the Civil Rights movement. Recommended for fans of music, biographies, and histo ...more
Feb 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: edelweiss
In 1978 my husband and I went to the Philadelphia Folk Festival. Our interest in folk rock turned into a deep love of folk music.

We attended concerts around Philly and bought recordings and listened to WXPN on the radio, discovering favorite singers.

One name we heard was Odetta, Odetta, and we knew she was a queen who had once ruled and was still worshipped.

I was a child in the 1950s, cushioned in my working class white neighborhood, unaware of things beyond my front door when Odetta was breakin
Stephanie Griffin
May 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
I first came upon Odetta as the singer of a song on a soundtrack album I’m no longer in possession of. I think the name of the song was “Be Here”. I loved the song so much I played it over and over. I wondered, who is this singer with one name and why can’t I find any information on her? This was in the stone-age of the internet. Now I’ve looked everywhere and I can’t find the song. Does anyone know it?
Anyway, this book came out in April 2020 and it describes her life as a performer, the protest
Stacie C
Apr 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020
In my case it is always the image of Odetta that comes to mind when I hear her name. The tall, undeniably Black woman, hair in an afro, guitar in hand. It must be that I simply did not know enough about her life, her struggle, and even her music to convey more than that image. But her image is memorable and her presence something not easily described. This book fills in the gaps in the story of Odetta that I didn’t know. Looking back at my childhood, her most memorable songs are the ones I’ve kn ...more
Jay Gabler
Jun 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Is there room for another book on Odetta? Yes, there are over 6,000 on Bob Dylan. That said, this is a long, long overdue biography of one of the 20th century's most underappreciated artists. I reviewed Odetta: A Life in Music and Protest for The Current. ...more
Aug 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
I met Odetta briefly once but did not have the opportunity to engage. She and my late husband had known each other from the Gate of Horn. Thus, when the book came out, I was interested.

The author attempts to provide a balanced story of Odetta's life, her talent, her opportunities and lack thereof, and her adjustments to the challenges she faced.

Her life is covered, emphasizing her musical power, success and disappointments. She was a powerful leader in the civil rights movement and many other c
Sep 18, 2020 rated it liked it
I heard about this book on the New York Times Book Review podcast. It was the first time I had heard of Odetta. She was a folk singer who influenced Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. She was fairly popular in the 1950s and early 1960s. She was also beloved by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Harry Belafonte, and Maya Angelou.

For the book's introduction, the author informs the reader that his research was limited by the fact that Odetta was a private person and not much is known about her. With t
Jun 03, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Often forgotten when looking back at the height of the folk music era is this black woman who dominated in live performances but who for various reasons never really made it on the charts or got played on the radio. Yet she influenced pretty much every major & minor musician whether vocalist or instrumentalist of the time from Belefonte to Dylan to Baez and more. This was an interesting look at her life and music. And it also puts her smack into the middle of the story of the civil rights moveme ...more
J Earl
Apr 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Odetta: A Life in Music and Protest by Ian Zack is a long overdue biography of a powerful artist and activist.

It surprises me just how much she has been forgotten by the public at large. Within the folk community she remained an important figure and among musicians of all genres she has always been an inspiration. But somehow, unless you had her records and still put them on occasionally, she was largely forgotten. This biography goes a long way toward correcting the fickle oversight of general
Sep 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Odetta was born New Year’s eve, 1930, trained as a classical alto, becoming a folk singer in the 50’s and 60’s, inspiring Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul & Mary among others, singing of civil rights and touring the world. After Clinton’s recognition in 1999 she turned to the blues, contributing to inspire new musicians and audiences, with her I Am message around her neck and in her music. She lived to see Obama elected President before she died Dec 2,2008. Odetta never really got the fame and ...more
Sep 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
I knew almost nothing about Odetta before reading this book but I started listening to her music like crazy, tracking down her albums as they were mentioned and even watched the episode of "Have Gun, Will Travel" with her guest starring. Twice. But my rating is 4 stars, not 5, because the book itself had very little heart and a lot of archival research -- contemporary reviews and plane itineraries and memories of her in other peoples' memoirs. I mean, it was pretty bloodless. And yet I hung on e ...more
Michael Reeves
Jun 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I wasn't overly familiar with Odetta before beginning to enjoy this book, but was interested to learn more about her. This excellent biography by Ian Zack brings her to life and does an amazing job conveying the power of her voice and her music. From Odetta's upbringing through her musical career, we learn of her struggles against racial inequity and her form of musical protest. Zack's writing is wonderfully engaging and he does a great job telling Odetta's story. This is an outstanding book. Hi ...more
Le Sedi
Jul 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Odetta has left a lasting legacy and she deserves more recognition for her contribution to music and activism.

It was so interesting how even the way she wore her hair was considered a political statement for most of her career.

Listened to the audio book and loved the narrator!
Aug 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
A long overdue tribute to the folk and blues pioneer and the Queen of Folk.
Tarita Henry
Aug 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Left me wanting more of the personal side of Odetta. But very interesting.
Jane Nichols
Jun 29, 2020 rated it liked it
Didn’t finish, just seemed off.
Cooper Renner
Oct 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Fine biography of a powerful singer.
Roberta Weiner
A comprehensive new biography of a folk icon. Read it with Spotify or YouTube handy, and be immersed in her majestic voice.
Apr 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A must-read for music lovers and fans of American counter-culture. Absolutely a work of genius. Highly recommended.
Jul 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Listened to the music in between chapters, and really enjoyed this reading experience.
Aug 06, 2020 marked it as to-read
"AudioFile's Best Audiobooks of July"
Sep 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
A good biography about an incredible woman who is often overlooked. I learned a lot that I didnt know, and I’ve been a fan for years. There were some portions where we weren’t talking about Odetta, hence 4/5.
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Jun 27, 2020
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Jessica Spady
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Jun 13, 2020
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Sep 10, 2020
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