Odetta died on this day in 2008 – here is her NYT obituary. I happened to spend two days with her thirty years ago when I was assigned to be her assistant when she was being filmed for a studio concert. She was very warm and materteral making no diva demands whatsoever. What I recall most vividly was our talking about Josh White who of course she knew well. I can’t say that we talked about the civil rights movement but we did talk about music and specifically about White’s version of St. James Infirmary Blues – I think it amazed her that a whippersnapper such as myself would not only know of White but was so drawn to his music. Speaking of St. James Infirmary Blues here is Cab Calloway’s version which he performed at a dreadful bar in the nondescript Le Méridien Etoile. My chum and I nursed (much to the staff’s chagrin) two outrageously expensive and crap drinks right up front for the two sets Cab and his daughter performed. Towards the end of the second set he said something like “glad to see so many people my own age here” (Cab was 76 in 1984) and came over to Marc and I and shook our hands. Keep in mind that despite his new-found fame from the Blues Brothers movie no-one there gave a shit about this incredibly talented and characterful chap.
Here is Odetta and for good measure Josh White and Cab: