Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Odetta and Elvis

Probably seems like an odd combination, but these two names have been on my mind a lot recently.

Odetta, as you know, passed away last week at the age of 77 from heart failure. I happened to catch a recorded performance, which aired on PBS a month or so ago, from her 2008 tour. She was moving very slowly and had to be assisted up the stairs by her accompanist, but there was nothing weak about her voice. What a commanding presence she had!

My favorite of hers is probably "House of the Rising Sun." Pay attention, while you're listening, to how she maintains pitch while singing a cappella in the middle of this beautiful rendition of the piece.

Our local PBS station is in the middle of another fund-raising drive, and one can always look forward to special performance treats as they try to solicit much needed monies to stay on the air with all their wonderful and diverse programming.

A couple of nights ago the feature was the 25th anniversary live concert with large screen images of Elvis singing - reminded me of Natalie Cole singing "with" her father (remember that album?).

[I waited table on Elvis and two of his friends once - way back in the dark ages, early 50's. I can remember thinking how 'greasy-looking' their hair was. Lots and lots of goop had to be applied so their hair would stay 'just so'. Any of you old enough to remember that era? And sideburns. Remember those? My goodness, my goodness!]

This video was one of many included that evening, but it is not from the 25th anniversary concert. Rather, it is as he sang it on one of his concert tours. Here it is, "An American Trilogy".

Elvis was another with perfect pitch. A very talented man. Flashy? Yes, but just listen - again and again, if you wish - and enjoy.


Chuck said...

I became an Elvis fan later in life, after he had died, and now am a big fan. I especially respect his passion for Christian/Gospel music and I love the stories and old footage of Elvis assembling his friends and backup quartet (be it the Imperials, Stamps, or Jordanaires) around the piano each night after his Las Vegas shows for Gospel singing into the wee hours of the morning. How I would have loved doing that with him just once! (Ellen and I toured Graceland earlier this year and we highly recommend the tour.)

Tammy said...

I'm not much of an Elvis fan, though my kids kind of like his music. I'll have to make sure they check out this post of yours.

Our PBS station was doing some fundraising over the weekend, and they did a 2-hour special on John Denver. Emily & I are HUGE fans of his music.

danbes said...

Only a few of the memorials honoring Odetta record that she actually got her start at my uncle Harry's Turnabout Theater in Hollywood, during the late 1940s. Odetta's mom was the cleaning woman at the theater, and Odetta, who came in on weekends to help her mother with the dusting, could instead often be found listening to Harry's opera records. And singing along with them. When Harry discovered this, he, recognizing her talent, paid for her singing lessons.

In my 1992 video, TURNABOUT, THE STORY OF THE YALE PUPPETEERS, Odetta says that it was her experience at Turnabout Theater that turned her life around; and she attributes her later success to the start that Harry and the Turnabout Theater offered her. Another thing she mentioned to me is that she was one of the first to have her hair done in the "Afro" style, and that originally the cut was called an "Odetta" !

Odetta was also a roommate of my first wife, Rose, and when Rose and I married she came to our wedding reception in my mother's small Santa Monica apartment, where she sang songs for more than an hour. (Interestingly, since I didn't see my uncle Harry very often during those years, it wasn't until much later that I discovered she'd been working at Turnabout Theater.)

Though I saw her infrequently over the years, Odetta was a good friend. She and her immense talent will be sorely missed.

Dan Bessie /

Goldenrod said...

Sometimes the way in which a person presents or conducts him/herself gets in the way of their talent being recognized and acknowledged by connoisseurs.

Elvis was deeply religious, Chuck, I firmly believe, and your use of the word 'passion' is right on the mark. You can see it on his face and certainly hear it in his vocal deliveries of Christian/Gospel music.

As a music major in college - and even more than just a few times since - I was privy to many a jam session. Never with Elvis - the only time I met him in person was when I waited table on him at a restaurant, but I'll bet that those sessions were 'something else' (to use a terribly inadequate expression).

I was offered the opportunity to tour Graceland just a few years back while visiting a dear friend in Memphis, but I declined. I feared that the tour might detract from or somehow alter the memories I had stored in my mind of his singing.

Tammy, that's one of the things I appreciate most about PBS - their diversity of programming!

What a pleasant surprise to receive such an extended comment including many personal tidbits about Odetta that I'll bet not many of us knew, Dan. Certainly not I!

I'll be referencing your comment in a post I will be publishing just a bit later today. It'll be one of those "Bits & pieces" type of thing.

I hope that you will visit my site again. Please feel free to leave a comment any time you wish.