December 31st in African American History – Odetta Holmes

December 31, 1930 Odetta Holmes, singer, actress, songwriter, and human rights activist, was born in Birmingham, Alabama.

Odetta’s first professional experience was in musical theater in 1944 and in 1949 she joined the “Finian’s Rainbow” touring company. She began her solo career in 1956 with “Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues” and followed with “At the Gates of Horn” (1957), and “Odetta Sings Folk Songs” (1963). She sang “O Freedom” at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and was named “The Voice of the Civil Rights Movement.”

Odetta also acted in several films, including “Cinerama Holiday” (1955) and “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” (1974). From 1977 to 1997, Odetta recorded sparingly, but, beginning in 1998, she began to refocus on recording with “To Ella.” Subsequent albums include “Blues Everywhere I Go,” which was nominated for the 2000 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album, “Looking for a Home” (2002), and “Gonna Let It Shine,” which was nominated for the 2007 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album. In 1999, President Bill Clinton presented Odetta with the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, and in 2005 the Library of Congress honored her with a Living Legend Award. Odetta died December 2, 2008.

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