The folk singer Odetta died today. I read about it in the NY Times. They said a lot of nice things about her, and about what she did for the civil rights movement in America and how she influenced a lot of singers like Janis Joplin and Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.
She was all that and more, but what I knew about her was that she was a good and kind person, and that she didn't like to see people feeling awkward or out of place.
I saw her at Vassar in the late 60s. I was hitchhiking down to New York from Albany, and I stopped at the school to see a girl I used to know. The girl didn't much want to see me, so I drifted around the campus, and I saw Odetta.
She was just there sitting on the lawn playing her guitar. They had asked her down for a concert or something, and she was just playing a guitar and singing on the lawn.
Her voice was so natural. She saw me standing listening to her, and she asked me to sit down and sing with her, and I was embarrassed. I apologized and said I didn't have much of a voice.
She said that's fine, "If you can talk you can sing." Then she started humming. It was a song called "Nobody knows you when you're down and out."
She played it and then she started singing it, but it was more like talking than singing, and I knew the song so I talked it as she talked it.
It was pleasant, like a conversation. She wanted me to feel comfortable.
If you click here, you can see a you tube of Odetta singing "House of the Rising Sun."