I was truly saddened by the passing of Etta James. If you are unfamiliar with Ms James, and her work, I will save you a quick Google: Etta James was an American singing legend who won six Grammy Awards. Rolling Stone magazine ranks James # 22 on their list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time and # 62 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists of all time. She has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and is known for recording the definitive versions of “I Just Wanna Make Love to You” and “At Last”. She is to song what Judy Dench is to acting.
She always fascinated me. For starters, there was that voice: One of the greatest instruments ever found in nature. Completely recognizable and beautifully complex, she could sound like a sweet innocent young girl or a dirty old man, and all in the same song. Sometimes the raw sexuality of her sound was quite frankly flabbergasting. Her recordings, surrounded always by the world’s finest musicians, are a sheer master class of Blues, R & B and Rock and Roll treasures.
For most of her life, Etta James was obese (this is something I can identify with). Yet, no matter her size, her live performances were always a fully realized energetic exhibition of unapologetic sexuality. She writhed on stage, gyrated her considerable posterior and let there be not one bit of confusion as to what the lyrics “I Want a little Sugar in my Bowl” meant to her. Whilst performing the line “Asked my baby for a nickel” form “Sweet Little Angel” on national TV, Etta famously lifted up her then enormous right breast and gave it a mighty shake for the entire audience and in the direction of then sitting U.S. President Bill Clinton.
Like so many brilliant artists, Etta had her demeans. I’ll leave that for you all to research if you choose as it matters little, at least to me, with regard to her legacy.
The concert Etta James gave several years ago at The River Rock Casino here in Vancouver was one of the finest events I have ever experienced. She was now very small, frail, well into her 70’s and had to be walked out on stage as her hips had now failed her. We worried. Would this be the Etta concert we had expected? It was better. Her rendition of her close friend Janice Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” alone was worth double the ticket price. During the concert, Etta did not shy from controversy. She referred to Beyonce as a “fuckin bitch” and invited her several times to “get off my song”. She then called President Obama “jug ears” for having had Ms Knowles perform said song at his inauguration.
Etta James eventually performed “At Last” that night. If you had been there you would have felt like we all felt: no one in the world should ever sing that song again. The second to last note of that evening’s performance was so absolutely perfect that members of her own band had the same look of pure astonishment in their eyes that we in the audience had. We may not see anything like her for a great long time and I was honored to be her fan.
Watch “Etta James Take It to the Limit live in San Francisco” below. Turn up the volume very loud and listen. You’ll be glad you did.
Submitted By: Joan-E
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