Odetta was one of folk song greats

Polly Anderson

Polly Anderson

NEW YORK - Odetta, the folk singer with the powerful voice who moved audiences and influenced fellow musicians for half a century, has died. She was 77.

Odetta died on Tuesday of heart disease at Lenox Hill Hospital.

She was admitted to the hospital with kidney failure about three weeks ago.

In spite of failing health that caused her to use a wheelchair, Odetta performed at 60 concerts in the last two years, singing for 90 minutes at a time.

"The power would just come out of her like people wouldn't believe," her manager of 12 years Doug Yeager said.

With her booming, classically trained voice and spare guitar, Odetta gave life to the songs by working men and slaves, farmers and miners and blacks and whites.

First coming to prominence in the 1950s, she influenced Harry Belafonte, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and other singers who had roots in the folk music boom.

"What distinguished her from the start was the meticulous care with which she tried to recreate the feeling of her folk songs," Time magazine wrote in 1960.

"She is a keening Irishwoman in Foggy Dew, a chain-gang convict in Take This Hammer, a deserted lover in Lass from the Low Country," Time wrote.

Odetta is survived by a daughter and a son. Divorced 40 years ago she never married again.

A memorial service was being planned for next month, Yeager said. - Sapa-AP