You are here
ODETTA is a 1999 recipient of the National Medal of the Arts and Humanities from President and Mrs. Clinton, the National Visionary Award from the Kennedy Center, the first Duke Ellington Fellowship Award from Yale University, Lifetime Achievement Award from the Library of Congress, the International Folk Alliance, and the World Folk Music Association, and Presidente d'Honeurs from the Cognac (France) Blues Festival, as well as Grammy and W.C. Handy Award nominations, in addition to numerous Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees from various universities. Odetta was born in Birmingham in 1930. From there, her family moved to Los Angeles, where she began studying classical voice. In 1944 she began a four-year association performing at the famed Turnabout Theater in Hollywood, and in 1949 she joined the road touring company of Finian's Rainbow. While the show performed in San Francisco she became exposed to folk music. In 1950, she made her first professional appearance as a folk singer at San Francisco's "Tin Angel." Those present said she seemed destined to become a cultural force. She has released dozens of recordings in the decades since. As a leading voice of social activism around the world, she participated in the Civil Rights marches in Selma, at the 1963 and 1983 Marches on Washington, and on President Kennedy's Civil Rights TV Special "Dinner With the President." In 1995, she was invited to Beijing, China as an Elder to the International Women's Conference. To this day, she remains a revered voice of social activism around the world.