Friday, December 05, 2008

Odetta Footnote: "Oh Freedom," Beirut

Ever since Odetta's passing on December 2 I've been reading a lot about her, and listening to her music a lot--I purchased several of her best songs from emusic. Many I wasn't familiar with. I did not know that the song, "Oh Freedom," was associated so closely with Odetta (she performed it at the 1963 March on Washington.)

Here's the footnote: I was a student at the American University of Beirut (1969-1973) at a time of intense political activism--lots of demonstrations, lots of student strikes. The song that student activists typically sang in those days, particularly in the 72-73 period, was "Oh Freedom." I don't know how many times I heard, and sang, the refrain "And before I'll be a slave I'll be buried in my grave/And go home to my lord and be free," in a demonstration, when a building was occupied, etc.

I saw Odetta perform once, at the Cambridge Folk Festival, in 1968. Although she was a giant in the folk music movement, my impression is that she has not really received the credit she deserves, as an absolutely critical influence on the generation of folk singers that were involved in the folk music movement of the 50s and 60s.

(Incidentally, she died on the same day as Elizabeth Fernea, who was the wife of my dissertation advisor, Bob Fernea, and who I loved dearly and admired greatly.)

1 comment:

Alasdair said...

That line from Oh Freedom reminds me of one of my favorites from Dirty Overhauls. Guthrie's line is essentially the same: "Before I'd be any man's slave, I'd rot down in my grave, and you can lay me down in my dirty overhauls." A cool worker's rendition. I didn't know that line was shared until you mentioned it.