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For Odetta

l-r - David Amram, Pete Seeger, Odetta and Toshi Regan, Beacon NY Summer 2008 Photos by Maxine Smith and John Economos - Click Here To View More Photos at!

l-r - David Amram, Pete Seeger, Odetta and Toshi Regan at The Clearwater Festival, Beacon NY Summer 2008 - Photos by Maxine Smith and John Economos -
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For Odetta

When Odetta and I first began to spend time together in 1969, she was already a legend to all of us who loved music, She had a message to share with everyone... brother and sister musicians of all genres, listeners or simply people who met her and after talking to her were made to feel that they had some importance as a person and that we all had a job in life. To make a contribution while we were here, and to act responsibly towards one another. And that music was one way to bring people together and rejoice in our shared humanity.

"Music heals" she told me over and over again. "We must remember that we are healers. Folk music is the root of the tree. We must always nourish those roots."

One night in the Fall of 1969, after finishing my last set at the Village Gate with my jazz quartet, I went out on the sidewalk with Ramblin' Jack Elliot, (who often sat in with our group to do some unexpected scat singing).

Like a ring master, Jack corralled passersby musicians strolling down McDougal Street. Native American singer Roland Moussaa and a group of others joined us and we all decided to go to Billy Mitchell's open mike to hear young and upcoming singer-songwriters. These open mikes usually started after midnight.

Among the small crowd who had joined us, Jack introduced me to Kris Kristofferson, who was new to New York at that time.

"Let's take Kris to Billy's open mike so he can hear all these young whippersnappers who are invading the Village" Jack announced to everyone, including disinterested people who passed us by on McDougal Street.

"Sounds like a plan" said Kris.

We all went down the street to the small hole-in-the-wall coffee house where Billy's open mike took place. The door was open, but there were no lights on. Billy was nowhere in sight. The place was deserted. Usually, if there was no one there and Billy wanted an audience for the open mike, he would sit outside the club on chair in front of the door and sing himself, creating a one man infomercial to get people to come in. In addition to being an accomplished guitar player, he had a secret weapon for attracting an audience of tourists, by accompanying himself playing intricate rhythms on his guitar using a toothbrush rather than a pick.

"I guess Billy got a paying gig tonight" said Jack. "I guess it's time for us vamoose and show Kris some of the other highlights of downtown big time nightlife."

Just as we were ready to leave, we heard an incredible voice coming from out of the darkness from the back of the room.

"Whew" said Kris "You've got some fine singers here in New York at your open mikes."

We listened, spellbound, to this voice floating out of the door and filling McDougal Street.

"Is she ever fine" said Jack. "She sounds just like Odetta."

"I'll sneak in the back and see who it is so we can all meet her. They've got some amazing young kids these days coming from all over the country to try to make it in New York." said Roland.

Roland crept through the unlit jumble of overturned chairs, coffee stained Formica tables and returned a minute later.

"I didn't have to ask her who she was and ask her why she sounds so much like Odetta" said Roland. "It IS Odetta"

Jack knew where the light switch was. He turned it on and we all went back through the dark and there was Odetta, as regal as ever, as if she were singing at Carnegie Hall.

"I'm so glad to see all of you here," she said, laughing.

"I came down to listen and support the young folks, but I guess Billy got busy and forgot to turn on the lights and open up so I just got in the mood to try some new things myself. Let's all play. Maybe we can bring some young folks down ourselves. We'll be the honey that draws the flies."

We all ended up playing all night, and began what Odetta and I did so often ever since, at folk festivals, shared birthday celebrations (we were born a few weeks apart in 1930). In recordings we made together, and in classical concerts when I was able to invite Odetta to be a soloist with the Brooklyn Philharmonic when I conducted the outdoor series.

We also played so many benefits together over thirty-nine years that whenever we played when we were actually paid, it was a banner occasion.

At a festival in Canada, a young woman came up to us and said "Miss Odetta and Mr. Amram, I have seen both of you in new York at so many benefits that I wanted to invite you both to a series of concerts in Israel for next summer. We are touring the whole country, advocating peace. We would like both of you to create music form the occasion."

"That sounds like a fine idea," said Odetta. "What are the dates?"

It will be most of next summer" said the young woman. "We are all volunteers, and have practically no budget but I was told by our committee that I can guarantee you both a one way ticket from New York to Tel Aviv, and as we tour the country, I am sure that we can solicit enough funds to get your return air fare back to New York."

"And where do you propose that we stay while touring the country?' said Odetta.

"Well, we are all camping out or crashing at people's places. But we will bring sleeping bags for you and Mr. Amram."

"Darling" said Odetta, in a gracious but stern tone of voice. "Your ideals are admirable, but I can speak for David and myself to let you know that at this stage of our lives, we receive round trip tickets in advance as well as a place to stay. We don't do sleeping bag tours."

This was the only benefit concert we were asked to do together that I can remember, that we ever turned down. Usually, we would be called separately and than would call one another to see if either of us was actually going to show up. If both of us were free that night, we would agree to do it. We knew that no matter how crazy the event might be, at least we could get to see one another, play music and swap stories about our latest adventures, triumphs and mishaps on that endless road we both traveled.

In addition to being such a magnificent musical artist, Odetta was a fantastic cook and her sweet potato recipe for thanksgiving meals at her apartment sustained all who had the good fortune to be in her home. She always made everyone who visited her feel like royalty in her presence.

When I finally got married in 1979 and had kids, I decided it was time to invite her over for a real, meal.

She said "AmmyRammy, now that you are a family man, I will only come to supper with you if your wife does the cooking. I remember those avant-guard omelets you made for me on your hot plate when you were still single. They were not edible. Cooking is an art just like music. You must learn to cook the same way you learned to write symphonies. Tender loving care, Each ingredient counts, and the results must be nourishing and balanced, as well as tasty. And it is preferable to eat while sitting down, turning off the phone while eating, and not playing the piano between courses. But I will be there and bring a home made pie "

Whenever Odetta came over, it was a special night for my wife and kids. Her elegance and warmth and stories always filled our tiny apartment with that special glow that she brought with her everywhere she went.

And not only my kids had their lives enriched by knowing her. Odetta always went out of her way to meet and encourage all young people to be strong and dare to excel. Still, she never forgot her old friends or those precious roots of all the traditional musics that she mastered and championed.

"I've got so much material in my closet, AmmyRammy" she said. "I wish I could sort it out put it all into a book, so that young musicians can learn what I have learned. But I have so much more in my head that isn't written down, from what I have learned of music from around the world. There's just never enough time to get it all organized."

In 1955, when I played with Charles Mingus and Max Roach, I met musical activists in New York who, like Mingus and Max, and Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, all felt that music was more than show biz. They all felt that there was a higher purpose than self aggrandizement.

By the time I met Odetta in 1969, some people had forgotten that she was an activist for freedom for everyone and the enduring voice of the civil rights movement. But even if the short attention span of some in the entertainment industry had their senior moments, she never forgot for a minute who she was or what she felt she was put on earth to do.

"Singing together can bring us together," she often said to me. "Making everyone part of the music enables the dream that we are all part of family become a reality."

"That's why it is so important when you and Floyd Red Crow Westerman do your concerts. The American Indians all understand that all living things are sacred and connected. And when we all play those concerts together, everyone can feel the stage and audience all come together. We have the chance to bring the world together, even if only for a minute. And a minute is a long time when it's filled with love."

Odetta, after sometimes spending endless hours, would always end our late night/early morning jam session-philosophic hang out adventures with a cheery good bye.

"AmmRammy, the sun is coming up. Until our next time......see ya in a minute"

I hear her saying that after an all night session when we recorded "Home on the Range' together in 1978, as she was leaving the funky recording studio on 42nd street to meet Stereo Mike, one of her devoted fans who owned a huge black car and would drive from Brooklyn after work at nights to escort her, dressed in a chauffeur's outfit like a limo driver.

"AmmyRammy, there will never be a "Home on the Range' like that, with Ramblin' Jack yodeling and your Afro-Cuban band playing while I sing. I know you have to stay and edit what we have just done, but Stereo Mike and I are going out to celebrate and hear some young folks do what they do. See ya in a minute."

Now that minute will be a little longer, but I will always see her and hear her in my heart, just as my children who grew up knowing her will see and hear her when I leave someday join her, in what we jokingly referred to as the Great Jam Session in the Sky.

Let's all celebrate her glorious 77 years on earth by remembering what she stood for and the values she cherished and practiced every day, and see if we can make a contribution, at least once in a while in some way, as she did every day.

David Amram

Dec 17 2008

Putnam Valley NY

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. called her "the Queen of American Folk Music" One of the most celebrated figures in music, singer, songstress and Civil Rights champion, Odetta. - Click Here To Learn More About this true American treasure.

Of Note! - A Celebration of An American Voice - On February 24th, Family, Friends, Artists and keepers of The Flame will gather to celebrate in Words and Song the LifeLoveWork of singer, songwriter and social activist, Odetta at Riverside Church in NYC at 7 PM. This celebration is free and open to the public with doors opening at 6 PM. Scheduled to lend Heart, Mind and Soul in song and word are David Amram, Maya Angelou, Harry Belafonte, Oscar Brand, Tom Chapin, Guy Davis, Ruby Dee, Emory Joseph, Wavy Gravy, Geoffrey Holder, The Holmes Bros., Marie Knight, Maria Muldaur, Bernice Reagon, Sonia Sanchez, Pete Seeger, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Josh White, Jr., Peter Yarrow along with more special guests YTBA

Memorial Celebration for Odetta
The orginal Progressive FM Radio station WBAI FM 99.5 will be broadcasting Live from Riverside Church at 7 PM (EST) and streaming Live on the Web! Click Here To Listen Live!
Live! on WBAI 99.5 FM -

New & Of Note! - The orginal Progressive FM Radio station WBAI FM 99.5 will be broadcasting Live from Riverside Church at 7 PM (EST) and streaming Live on the Web! Click Here To Listen Live!

The Grand Gal, Odetta, at Banjo Jim's, Photo by Mark Amrhein, Click Here to See More!

Also Of Note! - Let it Shine, Let it Shine, Let it Shine! - Back in May of 08' an evening of Song and Stories celebrating the LifeLoveWork of Odetta was organized by Michelle Esrick and hosted by Wavy Gravy where the faithful gathered at Banjo Jim's in NYC. Joining this joyous celebration was David Amram, Cheatin' Hearts with Sheriff Bob and Trip Henderson, Guy Davis, Timothy Hill, Emory Joseph, Christine Lavin, Madeleine Peyroux, Chaney Sims, Vincent Cross and Good Company,and a cavalcade of other celebrants.

Lettin' It Shine! The faithful celebrating the LifeLoveWork of Odetta  at Banjo Jim's in NYC. Photo by Mark Amrhein, Click Here to See More!

NYC freelance writer, Safia Jama Cross was there and wrote this great story about this wonderful evening at Banjo Jim's, Click Here to Read his story at Indie Sounds NY. Also great Photos by Mark Amrhein, Click Here to View his Photos.

To Learn more about David Amram go to:



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On The Griot Trail - Bowery Poetry Club founder, Bob Holman and Kora sensation (and Griot guide) Papa Susso's 7-week journey through Senegal, Gambia and Mali to capture the culture, sights and sounds of endangered languages. Click Here To Join Bob Holman and Papa Susso on their fantastic journey!

Jack's Last Call: Say Goodbye to Kerouac - AudioPlay adaptation of the Patrick Fenton play "Kerouac's Last Call" - Click Here to Learn More, Link and Listen to Jack's Last Call: Say Goodbye to Kerouac!

On Sunday, December 11th 'Ode to the Sidewalks of New York Jazz & Poetry Reading' will happen once again hosted by legendary musician, composer, author David Amram & his Trio at the Bowery Poetry Club. - Click Here For More Info! - ALSO View Pix and Clips from May's Ode Celebration!

Astrologick At Insomniacathon! - is a weekly astrological report by Gary Paul Glynn that offers intelligent people another look at astrology, one that utilizes the planets and signs in the way they were meant to be understood, not just fortune cookies. Click Here To Read this week's Forecast of Astrologick!

Pix, Clips and Page from kindred Keepers of The Flame! Join us in celebrating the LifeArtSpirit of Allen Ginsberg! Click Here to Enter!

As The Poets and The Players make their way from The Heartland to The Cities and Beyond they bring back their Sights, Sounds and Stories from The Road. Click Here for their recounts and Learn Why . . . Travel Is Fatal!

On April 9th, Dave Amram attended a final farewell to his old friend Lucien Carr, Read Dave's warm reflect of Lucien and his reverberation of the timeless truth of that living "Now" is always the right time. - Click Here to read, "What is Born of Spirit is Spirit." -

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On Sunday, Feburary 20th, Writer, The Gonzo Journalist, Kentuckian and Friend, Hunter S. Thompson headed on from this world to the next. Click Here to read the emotes, reflects, rants and raves coming in to Insomniacathon On-Line!

Philip Lamantia, one of the four members of "The Jazz/Poetry Trio" (Lamantia, Jack Kerouac, Howard Hart and David Amram) passed on March 7th. His friend and fellow Trio member, David Amram, looks back fondly with his reflect . . . Click Here to Read. " FOR PHILIP LAMANTIA."

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On Thursday, Feburary 10th, Playwright, Arthur Miller passed on. Click Here to read his friend, David Amram's, reflect.

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