Gospel, Spiritual Vocals Gospel Harmonettes
Born: Birmingham, AL
Died: February 22, 2004
Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame
Odessa Edwards, Gospel Singer With a Knack for Sermonizing
By BEN SISARIO Published: March 8, 2004
Odessa Edwards, a Southern gospel singer known for her passionate and topical sermonizing with the Original Gospel Harmonettes, died on Feb. 22 in Birmingham, Ala., where she lived.
The cause was complications from a stroke, her granddaughter, Tausha Riley, said. Ms. Riley said Ms. Edwards's exact age was not known, though she was believed to be in her 80's.
Ms. Edwards was the clear-voiced contralto of the Original Gospel Harmonettes, which featured the dynamic lead singer Dorothy Love Coates.
Though Ms. Edwards rarely sang the lead, she specialized in the spoken sermon parts that were a feature of the group's recordings and live performances. In her sermons, delivered while the other members of the group harmonized smoothly in the background, Ms. Edwards spoke of hope and faith in the face in adversity.
Speaking in biblical metaphors, she sometimes addressed the struggle for civil rights. Anthony Heilbut, the author of ''The Gospel Sound: Good News and Bad Times,'' said Ms. Edwards was ''perhaps the first and certainly the most notable advocate of civil rights'' in gospel, and that others, including Ms. Coates, spoke of segregation and racism, ''but Edwards spoke earliest, and with the most passion.''
The group, originally known as the Harmoneers, was founded in 1941 by Ms. Edwards, Evelyn Starks Hardy, Mildred Miller Howard, Vera Kolb and Willie Mae Newberry.
They changed their name to the Original Gospel Harmonettes in the late 40's, and Ms. Coates joined in 1950 as the lead singer. The group toured widely, and its recordings in the 50's and 60's for the Specialty and Savoy labels are part of the canon of gospel.
Ms. Edwards, born Odessa Glasgoe in Birmingham, earned a bachelor's degree from Miles College there and a master's degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
She taught high school mathematics and was a guidance counselor at Wenonah High School in Birmingham.
Besides Ms. Riley, of Miami, she is survived by a grandson, David Curry III of Orlando, Fla., and three great-grandchildren.
Odessa Edwards was a clear-voiced contralto and specialized in the spoken sections of the Harmonettes’ performances. In later years, she taught mathematics and was a counselor at Wenonah High School in Birmingham, Alabama. Mrs. Edwards had a marvelous sense of humor and a deep love for religious music.
Taken from The Sweetest Harmony:
“Odessa Glasgow [Edwards], who was very creative as she introduced our songs, was to play the piano while I sang. But, as I began singing, she started hitting sour notes which threw me off balance.”
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