Hutton was born Odessa Cowan at her parents' home in Chicago on March 13, 1916. Her mother, Marvel (Williams) Cowan, was a newlywed housewife, married to Odie Cowan, a salesman. By the time Odessa was three years old, she and her mother were living with her maternal grandmother, and her step-grandfather, a dining car waiter for a railroad. That year, Odessa’s sister, June, was born at home. When the census taker arrived a few months later, their father was not recorded as a resident of the family home.
Odessa and June grew up among black neighbors on Chicago’s South Side. Their mother played piano in dance halls and hotel ballrooms. Odessa studied dance with a prominent black teacher and choreographer, Hazel Thompson Davis. The Cowans' hometown black newspaper, The Chicago Defender, first wrote glowingly of Odessa’s performances when she was seven. But the next year, despite the fact that she had the same South Side address into her teens, mentions of Odessa Cowan in the Defender disappeared. By some accounts, that was the year she was “discovered” by a white vaudeville producer.
When watching Hutton perform to the segregated audiences of the day, she's quite soulful and jazzy, almost with an attitude of I'm pulling one over on you--I'm getting away with it--and I'm laughing all the way to the bank! Good for her! Here she is performing Truckin' and Suzy Q. Enjoy the show!