Odetta in 2006, from Wiki
Odetta Holmes. Odetta, "Little Ode." What a sly introduction to a voice that rocked my world in earlier days, and always. I don't mean "rocked" or "rolled," but literally rocked its foundations, when I first heard her sing.
She sang of migrant workers, "I come with the dust.....and I'm gone with the wind..." I still can feel, only remembering, the intensity of soul in her delivery of those lines, and the shudder that ran through me. One, I somehow knew I didn't entirely have the right to call my own.
Somehow, someday, I must make this my own, if I ever hoped to truly belong up there. Must. Yes, I felt that very thing, at the very first hum of her voice, like a natality, like something new under the sun of my own life, until I realized that it belonged to a different time, and a much harder truth and place than I myself had then known.
Humbling, but lighting a fire in me, and also under me.
She said last year, when asked where her voice came from, "Slavery."
That was It. That was what I had heard, at the bottom of that dark well of a voice.
But that is the power and grace and majesty of music - true music, like hers - to give to others, even the least deserving, a grace, and an "ease" of access to higher places. Like Auden wrote in his great poem, The Composer:
"You alone, alone O imaginary song
Are unable to call an existence wrong.
And pour out your forgiveness like a wine."
Well, I won't say more than that but this: we learn that she had hoped to sing at Obama's Inauguration. She is, after all, the Muse of American Democracy, in many provable ways like her rendition of " " at the March on Washington, 1963. And the testament of when asked what songs meant the most to her, "Every song that Odetta sings."
I remember St. Therese of Lisieux's famous promise, as she died at 24: "I will spend my Heaven doing good on Earth."
I do believe Odetta will spend her Heaven still singing all the slaves on their road home to Freedom.
And also I do believe that's all of us, for all those who can hear her still.
And she will be there, she will show at the Inauguration, as her first song heard from that great Ways away. We'll be listening.
That is the deeper meaning I derive, from her ever blazing Song.