Friday, January 20, 2012

In Memoriam: Etta James 1938-2012

Singer. "At Last" "(Wallflower) Roll With Me, Henry" "Tell Mama" "All I Could Do Was Cry" "I'd Rather Go Blind"

"[Chess Records founder] Leonard Chess was the most aware of anyone. He went up and down the halls of Chess announcing, 'Etta's crossed over! Etta's crossed over!' I still didn't know exactly what that meant, except that maybe more white people were listening to me. The Chess brothers kept saying how I was their first soul singer, that I was taking their label out of the old Delta blues, out of rock and into the modern era. Soul was the new direction...But in my mind, I was singing old style, not new."


  1. she was the personification of the blues, no matter what style she sang.

  2. Love Etta. A lot of people were upset that Beyonce sang "At Last" at the inauguration dance and Etta seemed not to have been invited. Maybe she was too sick (leukemia and dementia). Anyway, I feel bad.

  3. @rraine--According to Wilepedia (nice that it's back, huh? Otherwise I wouldn't be able to give such a comprehenive response to your comment. I'd just write "Thanks for commenting, rraine". Now, that would be kind of boring, don't you think?) Etta, like many black artists of her era, started out singing gospel in her local church. As a teenager, she discovered doo-wop, and started singing professionally. She was once a mainstay at the Monterey Jazz Festivel. Etta James is in the Rock and Roll, Rockabilly, and Blues halls of fame. She's won Grammies in both the blues and jazz categories. Billboard a couple of years ago awarded her an R&B award. For the past 20 years The Blues Foundation has handed out awards to her on an almost yearly basis, including one in the soul category. These accolades came relatively late in her life. For years, she was known, if at all, as the most underrated performer in America. Now, getting back to your comment, rraine, gospel, blues, jazz, doo-wop, R&B, rock 'n roll, rockabilly, and soul all share a common heritage, and occasionally it's hard to tell one from the other. Frankly, I don't see how all that categorization doesn't drive the average musician batty!

    @Kass--Beyonce once played Etta James in a movie called CADILLAC RECORDS, a film I've never seen and in fact never even heard of until I read it just now in the blessedly reinstated Wikipedia (anyone out there seen the movie? If so, feel free to channel your inner Roger Ebert and leave a review in this comment section. I might be interested in renting it.) Anyway, this may account for Beyonce singing "At Last" at the inaugeration. Afterwards, Etta was quoted as saying that she would "whip" Beyonce's "ass" for singing the song. Later on, she claimed she was only joking around. Even more later on, Etta's son claimed that it was her dementia that made her say such rude things about Beyonce. I prefer to believe she was pissed and hurt about not being asked to sing it herself. After all, a lot of blues music IS about being pissed and hurt, isn't it? If you click on the "At Last" link I provided, you'll see Etta singing her most famous song on DANCING WITH THE STARS in 2010, a whole two years after the inaugeration.

  4. Loved Etta !
    What a voice.

    @Kass...I think the Obama/Beyonce mess-up came about very poor planing. Which seems to be something that happens quite a bit... the party crashers at the First State Dinner...
    To have someone sing a song at such a huge event that is so closely identified with Edda... by a singer who I think didn't really do a great job or didn't restyle it enough that you could say ok different...
    It was kinda weird. Didn't Beyonce have a movie out where she sang that song ? can we say commercial ? Pick another song there are only a billion of them.
    And yes I know that song is sung at very wedding ever...
    My goodness they had Aretha Franklin (in the best hat ever) and no one else sang RESPECT her signature song. Or my #1 Freeway of Love (Pink Cadillac) best song ever. Now that would have been fun !
    Anyways rambling here....

    Back to Etta, what a voice !

    cheers, parsnip

  5. @parsnip--You're allowed to ramble here. Look at my comment. You're right, Beyonce played Etta in a movie, and sang that song.

    By the way, something up with your blog? Everytime I try to leave a comment, I get a blank screen. Is Blogger having one of its periodic nervous breakdowns?

  6. kirk-you couldn't write a boring comment if you tried! :)
    i suspect that the average musician doesn't pay much attention to the categorization. that's left to the marketing folks. the musicians just put it out there and let the notes fall where they may.

    and yes, i think blogger is having seizures again.

    wv = exess a little exess just leads to more.

  7. I'd like to review Cadillac Records, but I could barely stand Beyonce in Dream Girls so I don't think I could stomach her superficial portrayal of Etta.

    (I'm having the same problem with comments on blogger. I thought I was the only one)

  8. Thank you for taking the time to write on this topic.