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When she was 19 years old, she began performing professionally with the touring company of Finian's Rainbow. Although she continued in musical theatre for sometime, Odetta started singing folk music after moving to San Francisco in the early 1950s.
Odetta moved to New York in 1953, and began playing at the legendary Blue Angel club. By 1954, she had recorded her debut album on Fantasy Records. By the end of the decade, she had achieved some notoriety through the help of Harry Belafonte and Pete Seeger.
Her second album - Folk Songs, released in 1963 - quickly became one of the best-selling records of the year. After the release of Folk Songs, she signed a contract with Vanguard Records.
Known for her incredibly powerful stage presence and her ability to command the simplest instruments - voice and clapping hands - as well as her mastery of acoustic guitar, Odetta rose to fame singing the most classic African-American folk songs and spirituals. Through the years, she's also touched in gospel and the blues. She died from heart disease on December 2, 2008, at the age of 77.