Odetta Hugh’s Room, Toronto ON October 24

Odetta Hugh’s Room, Toronto ON October 24
There are artists that for some reason, while you’ve heard are legendary and their names have graced the billboards of your city before, you’ve never seen perform. For me, Odetta was one such artist. Bob Dylan once said this soulful woman was "the first thing that turned [him] on to folk singing.”

Odetta had performed at Hugh’s Room several times over the past decade, but I had always figured she would come again. Then again, she’s 77, so one never knows; this time I was not going to miss my chance to hear this legend.

Shortly after 9:30 p.m., wearing a pink toque, and wrapped in a red blanket, the septuagenarian was carried to the stage in her wheelchair to a standing ovation.

"Can you see my pretty face?” she asked the sell-out crowd, before opening with the stirring and political "Something Inside So Strong.”

Throughout the 60-minute-set Odetta was all smiles. The soulful singer delved into the American song chest and pulled out many treasures — ranging from jazz and gospel songs to blues and traditionalfolk tunes such as "Rock Island Line.”

Backed by an accomplished keyboardist, Odetta introduced most songs with humorous stories that chronicled the song’s origin. "The Bourgeois Blues,” which she said Leadbelly wrote of a visit he made to Washington, DC in 1937 with his wife, and told of the discrimination they faced because they were black, resonated with its timeless observation.

Odetta closed with a spine-tingling cover of the American folk favourite "House of the Rising Sun.” Odetta sang half this ballad of a life gone wrong down in New Orleans a cappella; the audience was wrapped in her spell as tightly as she was wrapped in her blanket.

Odetta left the stage the same way she came in — carried off in her wheelchair to a standing ovation. While physically Odetta is frail, her voice shows little weakness. I left glad I had finally felt the deep-ole soul of this wonderful woman.