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Today in my classes at Queens, I going to talk about Odetta, whose obituary I just read in the New York Times. Why? 1. She’s an inspiring role model; 2. I’m hoping to motivate teachers to add the indispensable music of the civil rights movement to their predictable February lessons on Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr.; 3. I’m committed to honoring the panoply of people who were an integral force in the civil rights movement. Here is a link to an interview with Odetta: I met Odetta twice–once at a New Year’s Eve concert at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. We met in the bathroom–just the two of us. Ever gracious, even upon exiting a toilet stall, she took both my hands as I thanked her for her soul-stirring performance. (No, I didn’t worry that she hadn’t yet washed her hands, &, yes, I had the impulse to never wash mine again.) The second time was in Washington, DC, at a music workshop with a member of the a cappela group, Sweet Honey in the Rock. A totally unpretentious Odetta sat in a circle with the rest of us. She asked what I did & was pleased to hear about my recently published picture biography of her friend and sister activist, Fannie Lou Hamer. That’s when I asked her for her autograph, which she graciously wrote on the only piece of paper we could scrounge up–a receipt for a bank withdrawal.

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