Odetta Holmes was born December 31, 1930, in Birmingham, Alabama. She is one of those rare personages who went through life known by only her first name: Odetta. Martin Luther King, Jr. called her “the queen of American folk music!” She sang folk, blues and spirituals. Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Janis Joplin and Mavis Staples all claimed her as a major formation influence or their music. She started performing publicly at age 13. Her last performance was October 25, 2008. She was invited to perform at Barack Obama’s inauguration, but, sadly, she passed away of heart disease on December 2, 2008.

I painted her as part of my “Personal Heroes” series, because she never just sang for her supper. She sang for a higher purpose. She was always seeking to break new ground, to make progress. She has been called the “voice of the civil rights movement.” I’m sure that is hyperbole. Surely that title needs to be shared with the Staples, the Weavers, Paul Robeson and many others. But she was not just pushing for civil rights; she promoted human rights and economic justice. She considered herself to be “just one foot soldier in the army.” Nonetheless, President Clinton awarded her the National Endowment for the Arts’ National Medal of Honor. She performed all over the world, and received many honors. This did not change her message. This is an iconic pose for her. She has a determined look on her face and she is pointing upwards. Her whole life was dedicated to using the gifts she was given: her beautiful voice, sharp mind and determined spirit, to get us all to move onward and upward!

We had the great honor and joy to be able to hear her perform live at the Philadelphia Folk Festival in 2001. (We had received complimentary tickets.) I was thrilled!

Painting is 12″ x 24″ acrylic on stretched canvas.

Price: $200 plus postage to US address

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