Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Odetta grew up in Los Angeles and was a music student at Los Angeles City College. Her first job as a folksinger was in San Francisco and in 1953 she appeared at the Blue Angel in New York where Harry Belafonte and Pete Seeger helped introduce her to larger audiences. Belafonte included her in a major television special in 1959 which made her name nationally known. She has been a featured performer at festivals all over the country, but especially at the Newport Folk Festivals, and in her own solo concerts at Carnegie Hall. Her albums have been best sellers ever since her first in 1954.
Now 71 years old, with a voice as strong and as impressive as ever, Odetta is one of the most influential artists of the 20th Century. Before Odetta no solo woman performer (let alone an African American woman) had sung blues, folk, work and protest songs. She took part in the march on Selma; sang for the masses at the 1963 March on Washington; played for President Kennedy and his cabinet on the nationally-televised Civil Rights program, “Dinner with the President;” was awarded the Presidential Medal of Arts in 1999; acted in films and theater; and was nominated for a Grammy in 2000 for her album, “Blues Everywhere I Go,” (her 27th, and first in 14 years).