Yet there is no biography of her, no feature-length documentary or biopic. It’s a brilliant performance. "Water Boy” was already an old song when the folksinger Odetta performed her version of it at Carnegie Hall in 1960.
Halfway through her performance, Odetta added a vocal accent to her strumming and singing: a sharp, guttural Waow!, mimicking the sound of hammer striking rock that’s heard on field recordings of prison work songs.
The water call given here (Example 14) was recorded In Alabama in 1950.". This moment fueled Odetta’s musical genius, she was so affected by that folk session that she eventually quit her job with the travelling show to stay in San Francisco. In the liner notes to her 1963 album My Eyes Have Seen, fellow singer and human rights activist Harry Belafonte wrote, “There are many singers with fine voices, great range, and superb technique. The Songs you Forgot to Remember (New York: Halcyon House, 1926, p. 40. Spaeth, ibid. But it’s also an opportunity. Musicians are always doing the work of performance, of rewriting a song in real time. , Sheila Tully Boyle, Andrew Buni Paul Robeson: The Years of Promise And Achievement - 2005 Page 147 "The work song, "Water Boy," is built around the cry for water of a gang of condemned and laboring men. Her surrender to music supported the black men and women who rose up during the contentious sixties. She’s been named an inspiration to many folk and blues artists such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Janis Joplin. Her greatness can’t be downplayed. [ [http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&token=&sql=33:0x60tvpukl1x John Lee Hooker - "Water Boy", AMG] ], *Odetta - "My Eyes Have Seen" (1959)::"Song: "I've Been Driving on Bald Mountain/Water Boy"." During the folk revival, she ranked among the top tier of artists, along with Baez, Judy Collins, and Buffy Sainte-Marie, to name a few. Few possess [Odetta’s] fine understanding of a song’s meaning that transforms it from a melody into a dramatic experience.”. Gary Davis) has captured her essence in an authoritative biography of the singer, guitarist, lyricist, actor, civil-rights activist, and cultural icon. "The Water Boy") is an American traditional folk song. The music's exact history and timeline is murky given the facts we do know about colonization. Her performances throughout New York and California would eventually award her the opportunity to successfully produce her own albums and tour across the world. But biographical details, especially sources that seduce us into thinking we’re getting the true story of somebody’s inner life, aren’t necessarily the best way to hear a song or the history it carries in the present. These days, as Giddens sings the line, she reels back into a hushed vibrato, and her magnetic hauteur crumples for a moment. Dylan has said she was a major influence; he borrowed the hammer-on technique she used on her first album. Odetta once said, “School taught me how to count and taught me how to put a sentence together but as far as the human spirit goes, I learned through folk music.” Odetta kept up the tradition of schooling people through folk music on because she knew what was at stake. Lyrics … "The Water Boy") is an American traditional folk song. It is built on the call "Water boy, where are you hidin'? Part snarl, part half-swallowed scream, the sound Odetta made got a little louder and longer each time. Few possess [Odetta’s] fine understanding of a song’s meaning that transforms it from a melody into a dramatic experience.” Odetta’s commitment to protest songs, often filtered through the blues idiom, was unwavering and her interpretive skills dazzling.  The first melody of the subsequent refrain is similar to the old German tune "Mendebras," used for the hymn "Oh Day of Rest and Gladness." The music of that time and place - in particular prison song and work songs recorded in the fields of the deep South - … It’s super easy, we promise! From the July/August 2020 issue of Acoustic Guitar | By Greg Cahill, “Unfortunately, there will always be a place for protest songs, at least until we human beings get our act together,” Odetta, heralded as the unofficial queen of American folk music, told me shortly before her death in 2008. She would fight for it using her best weapon. From 1949 onwards, many blues and folk artists have performed their own arrangements of it. Her love of folk music and quest for equality would get the attention of Martin Luther King, Jr. Odetta Holmes: Known simply as Odetta (Dec 31st,1930-Dec 2, 2008) is an American folk singer and songwriter, guitarist, actress and civil rights activist. “That whole idea of, is it my culture—you know,” she replied, “it gets asked of me in a way that white people who do blues music don’t get asked.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2020 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.
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Her vocals cause her throat to expand and vibrate, the way railroad tracks do on hot days. Ian Zack (author of Say No to the Devil: The Life and Musical Genius of Rev. It is also the song she plays in the film No Direction Home, in a TV performance from the 1960s (shown to highlight her influence on Bob Dylan). “Paul Robeson. " The call is one of several water boy calls in cotton plantation folk tradition.. A group anthology & portfolio run by marginalized women, journal entry, black history month, black writers.
Odetta would eventually refer to these songs as liberation songs. Sign up free!
The opening call to the "water boy" has been said to bear a resemblance to melodies found in classical works by Cui, Tchaikovsky, and Liszt, as well as a Jewish marriage song and a Native American tune. Some water calls such as "Water Boy, Where Are You Hidin'?" Anyone who seeks out the music she recorded over her half-century-long career is obliged to listen without a very detailed picture of the life she lived. I don’t know all of my genealogy, but my point is that if music speaks to you, I think that you have the ability to do that.” And she’s right to push back; when she sings Scottish folk, audiences don’t need a genealogical chart to know they’re witnessing something extraordinary. The aesthetics of her musical immersion. Please note these are affiliate links, meaning Acoustic Guitar will earn a small commission (at no cost to you) when you click through and make a purchase. Born on New Year’s Eve in 1930 in Birmingham, Alabama, Odetta Holmes grew up to become a paradoxical phenomenon: an actress, civil rights activist, and musician transgressing
have come to be regarded as true songs, and may be heard on phonograph recordings. Her performance made it easy to visualize the scene: black people working with the heat of the sun warming their skin, working non-stop. I assume the enslaved weren't given enough water (or anything, if anything) to keep them in good health as forced laborers. Donate to Protest Magazine through our fiscal sponsor, Fractured Atlas, a non‐profit arts service organization. In the 1960s, she teamed up with guitarist Bruce Langhorne (known for his work with Joan Baez and Bob Dylan) and a bassist. “Cool Water,” Odetta’s refashioning of a popular 1930s’ “cowboy” song into a Civil Rights ballad, prompts an examination of the political work that folk music was carrying out in these years, and folk culture’s remaking of the 1950s’ coffeehouse into an important site of political work across generational and racial lines. "The Water Boy") is an American traditional folk song. “Excuse me, Harry, but what is an Odetta?” one of the executives asked.
If Giddens were to tell us in a memoir that she’d been thinking about her own child when she sang, it would make the line a poignant narrative moment.
It’s less clear whether the mid-century swing-band arrangements were all motivated by the same wish, and Jimmie Rodgers’s country music version of 1957 sounds so laid-back, it’s not evident it had any motivation at all. Pledge your support and get bonus lessons!
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