Odetta was one of the most influential and accomplished people in the folk music movement from the 1950s until the present. Her performances were so powerful she seemed to inhabit the characters in the songs themselves. AP reports, Odetta played 60 concerts in the last 2 years even though her health was failing and she was forced to use a wheelchair. You’ll see that word “powerful” come up in probably all the articles written about her today.
Bob Dylan and Harry Belafonte were highly influenced by Odetta. Dylan said in a 1978 interview, “”the first thing that turned me on to folk singing was Odetta…just something vital and personal.” After hearing her music for the first time, “Right then and there, I went out and traded my electric guitar and amplifier for an acoustical guitar,” he said.
She was active in the civil rights movement, singing at the March on Washington in 1963, about which the New York Times wrote at the time her “voice carried almost to Capitol Hill.”
Most of this info is from the AP report, which has a lot more info worth checking out.