Photo by: Otto Hagel (1909-1973), Gelatin silver print, 1964, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Odetta began her career thinking that she would become a classical singer specializing in art song. But by her early twenties, she had embraced the folk music tradition as part of her natural African American heritage, and in 1953 she began performing as a folk singer in San Francisco's famous "hungry I" club. Three years later, when she released her first album, Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues , critics were struck by her rich contralto voice and her "electrifying sincerity," and when folk music achieved unprecedented popularity in the 1960s, Odetta ranked among its most celebrated stars.

Odetta's portraitist was the German-born Otto Hagel, a freelance photographer who did much of his work for Time and Life magazines.