The elderly are disrespected and discarded in this country, according to the famous folk singer, Odetta. This incredible Grammy award-winning musician, artist, actress, guitarist and activist was also known as the voice of the civil rights movement. She was credited with helping to start the folk revival in the ’50s and ’60s and inspired many famous musicians, such as Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul & Mary, Mavis Staples, Janis Joplin and many other household names. Martin Luther King Jr. called her the queen of American folk music.
The first time I met her over 20 years ago, she was to headline an event for disadvantaged children from single-parent homes. The concert would also include a set that had the children performing as a choir with her. As the producer of this event, I had in my minds-eye the power of the young and the old singing together. It was amazing how the children loved and embraced forming the choir. I had my big English mastiff in the mix, and the kids just adored him. They would howl with him, and the kids would practice the songs with exuberance.
Of course, there was no place for the dog during the concert. Of course not. But on the day of the show, he was still at the opera house in his dressing room to give those kids the support and confidence that they needed. Although many of the children had stage fright, they were able to focus their energy on June bug, and he did just what dogs are supposed to do — he loved on the children.
To start the concert, Odetta was to perform sitting in a chair on a black stage with two gorgeous red and gold Moroccan doors hanging behind her. Then the kids were to come out, and they would be accompanied by a world-famous bluegrass guitarist.
When it was time for the children to go on stage, I recall looking down the long staircase as they lined up, and there was the brindle mastiff in the midst of the line-up with his new handlers. And yes, they walked him out and plunked him down right next to Odetta. Then they all proceeded to sing their hearts out. It brought tears of joy to everyone in the audience. Odetta later told me that she knew that I would somehow get that dog on the stage.
So here we are, several years after that event having dinner, and I am interviewing her for an article. Odetta had much to say about many topics, but one of her deep concerns was the way that the elders are treated in this country. She said many countries, such as Japan, revere their seniors. They ensure that they are well cared for and treated with the utmost respect. Their lives, stories and memories enrich the community. But typically, not in the United States.
She was quite passionate about the inequality, and I wonder what she would have said about the current virus crisis, where so many people do not care about those that are at higher risk of getting sick and dying. What would she say about the people that refuse masks and social distancing because they feel superior instead of compassionate? What about all this civil unrest? I bet Odetta would have some pretty succinct words for some folks out there, followed by some incredible and inspirational music that would sooth and heal our souls.
Odetta Holmes passed away in 2008, but I can still hear her singing that famous Weavers’ song, “If I Had a Hammer.”
If I had a hammer
I’d hammer in the morning
I’d hammer in the evening
All over this land!
Hammer out danger
I’d hammer out a warning
I’d hammer out love
Between all of my brothers (and my sisters, ah-ah)
All over this land!
In loving memory of my favorite cousin who recently passed from COVID-19 after 19 days on a ventilator. He was living life to the fullest, then boom, it was over. Fly high Chuck.
Jane Laulis is an avid pet lover. She hosts a pet talk radio show and is involved with pets from research to retail, nutrition to pet food manufacturing. She lives on the coast with her scientist husband, ocean faring dogs, indoor cats, exotic snakes and a charm of hummingbirds. She may be reached at [email protected]