Odetta Holmes, (December 31, 1930 – December 2, 2008) known as Odetta, was an American singer, actress, guitarist, songwriter, and a human rights activist, often referred to as "The Voice of the Civil Rights Movement". Her musical repertoire consisted largely of American folk music, blues, jazz, and spirituals. An important figure in the American folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960s, she was influential musically and ideologically to many of the key figures of the folk-revival of that time, including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Mavis Staples, and Janis Joplin.
Odetta Holmes was born in Birmingham, Ala., on Dec. 31, 1930, in the depths of the Depression. The music of that time and place — particularly prison songs and work songs recorded in the fields of the Deep South — shaped her life. Her father, Reuben Holmes, died when she was young, and in 1937 she and her mother, Flora Sanders, moved to Los Angeles. Three years later Odetta discovered that she could sing.She found her own voice by listening to blues, jazz and folk music from the African-American and Anglo-American traditions. She earned a music degree from Los Angeles City College.
In 1950 Odetta began singing professionally in a West Coast production of the musical “Finian’s Rainbow,” but she found a stronger calling in the bohemian coffeehouses of San Francisco. She moved to New York in 1953 and began singing in nightclubs like the storied Blue Angel, cutting a striking figure with her guitar and her close-cropped hair, her voice plunging deep and soaring high. Her songs blended the personal and the political, the theatrical and the spiritual. Her first solo album, “Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues,” released in 1956, resonated with an audience eager to hear old songs made new.
"There's a Hole in My Bucket" is a children's song, along the same lines as "Found a Peanut". The song is based on a dialogue about a leaky bucket between two characters, called Henry and Liza.
Harry Belafonte recorded it with Odetta in 1960. It was in the UK charts in 1961.
In 1960 Odetta gave a celebrated solo concert at Carnegie Hall and released a live album of it. Eight years later she was on stage there again, now with Mr. Dylan, Pete Seeger, Judy Collins, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and other folk stars in a tribute to Woody Guthrie, which was also recorded for an album. Odetta’s blues and spirituals led directly to her work for the civil rights movement.
Her fame hit a peak in 1963, when she marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and performed for President John F. Kennedy. But with King’s assassination in 1968, much of the wind went out of the sails of the civil rights movement, and the songs of protest and resistance that had been the movement’s soundtrack began to fade. Odetta’s fame flagged for years thereafter.
In 1999 President Bill Clinton awarded her the National Endowment for the Arts’ National Medal of Arts. In 2003 she received a Living Legend tribute from the Library of Congress and a National Visionary Leadership award.
Odetta married three times: to Don Gordon, to Gary Shead, and, in 1977, to the blues musician Iverson Minter, known professionally as Louisiana Red. The first two marriages ended in divorce; Mr. Minter moved to Germany in 1983. Odetta was singing and performing well into the 21st century — 60 concerts in the last two years. In April 2007, a half-century after Mr. Dylan first heard her, she returned to Carnegie Hall to perform in a tribute to Bruce Springsteen. She turned one of his songs, “57 Channels,” into a chanted poem, and Mr. Springsteen came out from the wings to call it “the greatest version” of the song he had ever heard.
Her last "big concert," before thousands of people, was in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park on October 4, 2008, for the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. Odetta, who lived in Upper Manhattan, had been admitted to Lenox Hill Hospital during November 2008 with a number of ailments, including kidney trouble. On December 2, 2008, Odetta died from heart disease and pulmonary fibrosis in New York City. In her last days she had been hoping to sing at the presidential inauguration for Barack Obama.
At her memorial service in February 2009 at Riverside Church in New York City, participants included Maya Angelou, Pete Seeger, Harry Belafonte, Geoffrey Holder, Steve Earle, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Peter Yarrow, Tom Chapin, Josh White, Jr. (son of Josh White), Emory Joseph, Rattlesnake Annie, the Brooklyn Technical High School Chamber Chorus, and videotaped tributes from Tavis Smiley and Joan Baez. (Info edited from Wikipedia & mainly NY Times)