Dwight Garner at the NYT:
“Next a lone spotlight shone on Odetta wearing a dark loose-fitting dress, and she began singing ‘Water Boy,’ or, rather, she unleashed it. Accompanying herself with her large National acoustic guitar, eyes closed, brows knitted in concentration, she brought the full tragedy and anger of chain gang life to bear.”
It was a mesmerizing performance. Odetta was drawing on spiritual patrons that included not just Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey and Lead Belly; with her classically trained voice, she put listeners in mind of the contralto Marian Anderson.
There was a second mesmerizing aspect to Odetta’s performance: her natural hair. This was years before the “Black is beautiful” movement, and unstraightened hair was a real rarity — so much so that, for a time, the cut was called “an Odetta.”