Odetta and Larry

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We mourn the noble folksinger Odetta, and applaud her short-lived interracial creative project 55 years ago.

by Carol Mohr

Bad Subjects mourns Odetta (1932-2008), folksinger blessed with both strong voice and politics, who sang at many civil rights events in her long career. But since racial integration was a conviction of hers (and arena of struggle at the time), we applaud the black woman's short-lived creative project with a white man. We present this brief report on the duo by his daughter.

Odetta met Larry Mohr before he was my dad. It was in San Francisco, in 1953, at a club frequented by folk music devotees. He was then studying at Berkeley, and she was traveling in the cast of a production of the musical Finian's Rainbow. They eventually worked up a repertoire together and began performing in nightclubs as Odetta & Larry. The partnership led to a bright red record album, and even to a brief appearance in the movie Cinerama Holiday.

Odetta, of course, went on to an outstanding musical career. Larry abandoned the musician's life to get a real job and raise a family. Larry grew up in Detroit, and his path brought him to the University of Michigan as a graduate student in Political Science, where he stayed on and became a faculty member. He lived in Ann Arbor for more than 35 years, continued to play the banjo and sing for fun and to entertain family and friends. He also passed on his love of folk music to both his children; my brother and I are actively involved in folk music and folk dance activities to this day.

Larry is now greatly enjoying his retirement in Chicago, where he has found time, among many other interests, to pick up the banjo again. He says he has no idea why the company made the record red.

Carol Mohr can be found Morris dancing in Ann Arbor, and on Facebook.

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