Odette and Ethel

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This gospel duo made history in the mid-'20s with two beautiful recordings, "Befo' This Time Another You" and "When the Train Comes Along"; the latter song in particular developed into a gospel standard…
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This gospel duo made history in the mid-'20s with two beautiful recordings, "Befo' This Time Another You" and "When the Train Comes Along"; the latter song in particular developed into a gospel standard programmed by a wide variety of ensembles. Odette and Ethel, nonetheless, do not seem particularly well-remembered in the recording industry; many listeners might think this was a special one-time only collaboration between the famous folk singer -- who's actually Odetta, not Odette -- and Broadway belter Ethel Merman. That sounds like a good idea, as did the combination of Sister Ethel Grainger, a devout lady whose brother Porter Grainger was a famous pianist and songwriter, and Odette Jackson who, like brother Grainger, would not say no to a classic blues recording session.

Interest has bloomed in some vintage gospel performers from this period, however, with hysteria seemingly an important marketing point. The Document label has released two hefty volumes of recordings by Rev. J.C. Burnett, a name that comes up often following the word "hysteria." The result is a major widening of the discographical road driven by Odette and Ethel, since Burnett made use of them as background singers during his '20s recordings. "Hebrew Children in the Fiery Furnace," perhaps a favorite of the late Yassar Arafat, presents typical procedure between the right Rev. Burnett and his flock, Odette and Ethel getting the stew to simmer in the introductory setting. As the track proceeds, they are relegated to supportive asides, but getting any kind of word in during a Burnett sermon is a major accomplishment involving both timing and fortitude. Odette and Ethel on their own can be heard on a compilation entitled Gospel Piano and Guitar Classics, 1926-1935, released in 1987 by the Blues Document label.