Odetta: A Life in Music and Protest

Beacon. Apr. 2020. 288p. ISBN 9780807035320. $28.95. MUSIC
Releasing years of pent-up anger through her powerful voice, Odetta Holmes, known as “Odetta” (1930–2008), quickly became the “face of the civil rights movement,” inspiring other folk legends such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez and living on through the artists she continues to inspire. Drawing from Odetta’s personal papers and countless interviews, Zack (Say No to the Devil) makes insightful parallels between the fight for civil rights and Odetta’s songs, which became rousing anthems for protesters. He also reveals intimate details of Odetta’s private life and relationships, such as her friendships with Harry Belafonte and Martin Luther King Jr. Superbly researched and beautifully organized, this is an excellent work of scholarship. Although Odetta never achieved the same level of fame as some of her folk music counterparts, she leaves behind a significant and enduring legacy; those unaware of her work will be compelled to learn more.
VERDICT An illuminating, stirring biography of the extraordinary “Queen of American Folk.”

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