A magnificent new voice is here to sing the old songs. It belongs to a woman whom we believe to be the queen of American folksingers. the latest descendent of the line which gave birth to Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, the rightful heiress to Leadbelly's Legacy. Her name is Odetta. and like everything else about this remarkable personality it is unusual. When one first sees her. her size and height give rise to the uneasy feeling that she belongs to a race a out above our own: but in her strong, haunting face there is a reassuring beauty and charm. In her normal speech her voice is quiet and delicate, but when she sings she can unleash a force that is startling. In her rendition of a number like Joshua she displays a power and intensity that could well have tumbled the walls of Jericho, while a few minutes later her voice in Glory, Glory is more like the shuffling of angels' feet.
This album is an important milestone in the history of folk-recording. For the first time devotees of traditional music may hear a truly great folk-artist in her prime — though it would be foolhardy to assume that Odetta has yet reached the height of her musical powers. She is now in her twenty-fifth year and comes to the public at a time when the recording industry is approaching the borders of perfect fidelity. Sound reproduction was in its infancy when Ma Rainey and Blind Lemon Jefferson had already reached old age. From the faint, scratchy sounds left to us from those days we can only guess at the youthful magnificence of Bessie Smith or the unrestrained exuberance of the young Leadbelly; such recordings give us a disquieting sense of loss. But this brilliant album will only whet our appetites, and we will look forward with impatience to the many Odetta performances to follow.
The foregoing is not meant to suggest that Odetta will delight only the devotees of folk-music any more than Marlene Dietrich's appeal is limited to fans of popular music or Tchaikovsky's to enthusiasts of the classics. On the contrary, the emotions of folk music, so faithfully presented by Odetta, have a universal attraction — whether it's in the lonely cry of her blues, the exultance of her work songs, the poignancy of her love ballads, or the quiet faith of her spirituals.
Though Odetta was born in Birmingham, Alabama — deep in the heartland of American traditional music — she has spent most of her life in California. Folk music was hardly her first love; she has had several years of operatic training and made her professional stage debut — as did Sonny Terry — in the hit musical, "Finian's Rainbow". She was on the road with this show when she fell in with a group of enthusiastic young balladeers in San Francisco, and for the past five years she has concentrated on folksinging. Her nightclub appearances have included the Blue Angel in New York City, the Hungry i, and The Tin Angel in San Francisco, a monumental run of two years at the Turnabout Theatre in Los Angeles, and a triumphant return to the East which began at The Gate of Horn in Chicago.
This album has entertained more people in the month before its release than most albums do in the month after they are released. This is easily explained: we at TRADITION have been too excited about it to wait patiently through the long weeks of production before introducing Odetta to our friends. At least a half-dozen acetate copies of the original tapes have been worn to a nubbin through incessant replays, and with each hearing our own delight and admiration for her power and artistry has increased. It is our sincere belief that the listening public will echo our enthusiasm. It is therefore with a pride which borders on hybris that TRADITION RECORDS presents in her first album one of the most electrifying performers of our time — ODETTA!
— DEAN GITTER