Thursday, December 04, 2008


She had a heart as big as the Universe ... and a voice that filled it.

Now, that magnificent voice is silent. And the Universe is almost still in tribute to the kind, generous, passionate woman that was Odetta.

My friend was a feisty, spirited lady. She treated a song with the dignity of a queen, yet presented herself to the audience with the humility of a princess. Never would she go onstage unless properly finished in dress and makeup, because "that is what the audience expects of her ... to care enough to look right for them."

I was a young, scrappy, energetic folksinger when I first met her. Oh, I knew who she was because of a Janis Ian record. At first, I thought "Odetta" was the name of some music gear that created these awesome, cosmic tones on the record. Then I found out that Odetta was a real person. One day, my agent booked me to open a concert at a dinner theater in Maine, named, oddly enough, Jonathans. I walked in for sound check and sitting on stage, positioned under a lone spotlight, dressed in white robes with a white headband, her guitar on her lap with a stick of burning incense positioned between the strings of her guitar tuners, was the woman named Odetta.

She looked like a black angel.

Odetta and I had a great time and, a couple of months later, she flew to meet me in a recording studio where we recorded Si Kahn's song, "New Wood." Oh, how her voice filled the speakers and the song and the room and my head. Later that night, we went to the Kirchner's farm to film the music video. It premiered on CNN of all places. I went to NYC and she and I taped an interview together that aired on CNN's Showbiz Tonight.

My point in all of this is simply to show that my friend gave more to me than I ever gave to her. And my little career didn't even register on the Richter scale of her world. The last we spent time together, she taped a WoodSongs special event in her honour (check out show #381 on my Archives page). The night before, we spent all evening at Portafino's Resturant talking and laughing and swapping stories of being on the road too much.

She fell sick recently, although she remained energized at the hope of singing for Barack Obama at the inauguration this January. That would have been a sight, so see Odetta stand and sing in front of four million people. The same Odetta who sang for Martin Luther King, Jr. at his civil rights marches all those years ago.

The woman who gave voice to the songs of slaves would have deserved that honour. And, darn, she would have made sure she looked great, too. Because that's what the audience would have expected of her.

Odetta was in fact a legend. She carried herself like a legend. She performed like one. But she never acted like one.

Yes, the Universe is a little less brilliant today. The stars reflect a little less light. The music that drifts in the clouds sound a little less sweet. And there is a silent place in any heart that loves the true spirit and passion of music.

I will miss you, my friend.