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Odetta Gordon (Holmes)

Birthplace: Birmingham, Alabama
Death: Died in New York, New York
Cause of death: cardiovascular disease and and pulmonary fibrosis
Place of Burial: Memorial service held at Riverside Church, New York, New York
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Reuben Holmes and Flora A. Felious
Ex-wife of <private> Gordon

Occupation: Singer, musician
Managed by: Erica "the Disconnectrix" Howton
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Odetta

Odetta (1930 – 2008) was an American singer, actress, guitarist, songwriter, and a human rights activist, often referred to as "The Voice of the Civil Rights Movement".

"If only one could be sure that every 50 years a voice and a soul like Odetta's would come along, the centuries would pass so quickly and painlessly we would hardly recognize time."

Odetta Holmes was born December 31, 1930 in Birmingham, Alabama and died on December 2, 2008 from heart disease in New York, New York. She adopted the surname Felious from her stepfather while growing up in Los Angeles. Her father, listed as laborer in a steel factory in the 1930 census, died when she was an infant. (cite5)

Parents: Reuben Holmes (d. 1930) and Flora Sanders (1911-1988), who then married Zadock Felious (1907-1945); they moved from Birmingham, Alabama to Los Angeles, where Flora worked as a domestic and Zadock as a janitor.


  1. on May 1, 1959 in Chicago to Chicago concert coordinator Daniel Gordon (b. ca 1927). (cite5). They lived in New York, where he was Judy Collin's manager; the marriage ended in divorce. (cite8)(cite10)
  2. in 1967 engaged to marry Australian filmmaker and painter Garry Shead (cite8).
  3. from 1977-1981 she was the companion of singer-guitarist Iversen "Louisiana Red" Minter, who was widowed. Their liason ended when he moved to Germany for better opportunities, and he later remarried. (cite6)(cite7)


  1. Michelle Esrick of New York City (cite4)(cite10)
  2. Boots Jaffe of Fort Collins, Colo (cite2) (cite4)(cite10)


  1. Maya Angelou (cite3)

you go weak in the knees when you hear her sing

Odetta had operatic training from the age of 13. Her mother hoped she would follow Marian Anderson, but she doubted a large black girl would ever perform at the Metropolitan Opera.

"The first thing that turned me on to folk singing was Odetta. I heard a record of hers Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues in a record store, back when you could listen to records right there in the store. Right then and there, I went out and traded my electric guitar and amplifier for an acoustical guitar, a flat-top Gibson. ... [That album was] just something vital and personal. I learned all the songs on that record."

At her memorial service in February 2009 at Riverside Church in New York City, participants included Maya Angelou, Pete Seeger, Harry Belafonte, Geoffrey Holder, Steve Earle, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Peter Yarrow, Tom Chapin, Josh White, Jr. (son of Josh White), Emory Joseph, Rattlesnake Annie, the Brooklyn Technical High School Chamber Chorus, and videotaped tributes from Tavis Smiley and Joan Baez.[23]



  1. Ryzik, Melena (2009-02-26). "Remembering Odetta, Who Sang of Freedom". New York Times.
  2. Sometimes through tears, members of Odetta’s family shared stories of Odetta’s penchant for late-night infomercial shopping and thriftiness. Boots Jaffe, whom Odetta considered a son, said she had been one of those people who had a box marked “long string,” a box marked “short string” and a box marked “string too short.” (Ryzik, ibid)
  3. Maya Angelou said: “We were both tall black ladies with attitude, and most people were really scared of us. To be in the ’50s, black and turned away from almost everything and to say, ‘I have come here to stay’ and to be a sister of somebody who had courage is no small matter.” (Ryzik, ibid)
  4. Odetta Obituary Copyright © 2008 The Associated Press
  5. Odetta: Odetta Holmes Felious Gordon (1930-2008), U.S. black folksinger, civil rights activist. The singer's father died shortly after her birth. Her mother then married a janitor, Zadock Felious, whose surname she took. In 1959 she married Dan Gordon and added his name to the two she had already. Dictionary of Pseudonyms: 13,000 Assumed Names and Their Origins By Adrian Room, page 357
  6. Odetta was married three times: to Don Gordon, to Gary Shead, and, in 1977, to blues musician Iverson Minter (Louisiana Red). The first two marriages ended in divorce; Minter moved to Germany in 1983 to pursue his performing career. Odetta, The Soul of American Folk Music!
  7. 1972: His beloved wife died from cancer. 1981: Louisiana Red leaves the United States for living now in Germany. 1984: Marriage with his beloved wife Dora. Louisana Red: His Life
  8. Didn't Marry Young White Australian, Says Odetta. Folk Singer Odetta, appearint at Washington D.C's. Cellar Door, told JET she never married young white, Australian film marker Garry Shead 25, as reported. "You might say, we got divorced before we got married," she laughed. She refused to say what caused the break, but admitted they were engaged and only broke off he engagement at the last minute. "We're still friends," she said, "but I don't want to talk about our relationship. That is over, but definitely. "Reports said Odetta and Shead were married June 20 in Tokyo, Japan, where the noted folk singer was appearing. Jet Sep 14, 1967
  9. Folk Singer Odetta To Marry Concert Coordinator. Folk singer Odetta Felious, 28, was slated to marry Chicago concert coordinator Daniel Gordon, 31, at the Chicago Courthouse on May 1, according to announcements sent out by the couple. Odetta is presently completing an East Coast concert tour. Jet May 7, 1959
  10. Odetta is survived by a daughter, Michelle Esrick of New York City, and a son, Boots Jaffre, of Fort Collins, Colo. She was divorced about 40 years ago and never remarried, her manager [of 12 years, Doug Yeager] said. Folk singer Odetta dies at 77 Posted: Wed., Dec. 3, 2008, 8:22am PT.
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Odetta's Timeline

December 31, 1930
Birmingham, Alabama
Age 5
Birmingham, Jefferson, Alabama, United States
December 2, 2008
Age 77
New York, New York
February 24, 2009
Age 77
Memorial service held at Riverside Church, New York, New York

Memorial Service for Odetta

The All Stars of the Paleo Left — along with a capacity crowd of more than 1,000 that included Woody Guthrie’s daughter Nora and even Jerry Stiller and Ann Meara — turned out at Riverside Church for last night’s memorial service for Odetta, the legendary folk and blues singer who died in December just shy of 78. Big in voice, body, and charisma, she was variously dubbed “The Voice of the Civil Rights Movement” and, by no less a fan than Martin Luther King Jr., “The Queen of American Folk Music.” Her admirers and acolytes also included Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.

The evening clocked in at more than four hours of speechifying, sermonizing, and occasional singing (take that, Fidel Castro!), and was by turns moving (the testimony of loss by her niece Jan Ford and a young neighbor boy, Max Perkins), rousing (Sweet Honey in the Rock’s rendition of “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”), and risible (Wavy Gravy absurdly brandishing a rubber fish). In an unavoidable burst of political correctness, Peter Yarrow of “Puff, the Magic Dragon” fame even roped his daughter Bethany and the Brooklyn Tech Choir into performing his treacly anthem of victimization, “Don’t Laugh at Me.”

Harry Belafonte, Pete Seeger, and Maya Angelou regaled the largely white audience of a certain age with Odetta stories and testimonials, urgently declaiming phrases like “the instruments of social oppression” and “the struggle for liberation,” as though some fabulous time machine had transported the entire gathering back to the bad old days before Barack Obama was born, when J. Edgar Hoover was collecting dirt on suspected comsymps and the Ku Klux Klan was a force to be reckoned with.

“We were young and black and female and crazy as road lizards,” said the frail-looking, cane-using Dr. Angelou, recalling her early friendship with the Alabama-born Odetta Holmes in the cabarets and coffee houses of mid-century San Francisco. “I think of her as a sister who sang us into freedom, really — because that’s what Odetta did.” The ridiculously handsome Belafonte, also leaning on a cane, celebrated the woman whom President Clinton once presented with the National Medal of Arts. “The loss for me has been so deep that words elude me,” Belafonte said. “Who will fill that space? It is hard to know.”