Saturday 21 January 2012

Etta James: 1938-2012

Etta James passed away on January 20, after a long battle with leukemia. Her career started in 1955, when she was discovered by the bandleader Johnny Otis, and ended in November 2011 when she released The Dreamer, a collection of soul standards. At that point she was suffering from dementia, leukemia and hepatitis C.

Beyonce, who portrayed James in the 2008 film Cadillac Records, sang the elder diva's signature tune At Last at Barack Obama's inauguration ceremony in 2009.

Christened Jamesetta Hawkins, she was a child gospel prodigy, singing in her Los Angeles Baptist church choir (and over the radio) when she was only five years old.

The Dreamer
She recorded with the Otis band and vocalist Richard Berry in 1954 for Modern Records. Otis inverted her first name to devise her stage handle. "The Wallflower" topped the R&B charts in 1955.

James moved to Chess Records in 1960. Leonard Chess viewed James as a classy ballad singer with pop crossover potential, backing her with lush violin orchestrations for 1961's luscious "At Last" and "Trust in Me."

Although Chess hosted its own house band, James traveled to Rick Hall's Fame Studios in 1967 and emerged with one of her all-time classics. "Tell Mama" was a searing slice of upbeat Southern soul that contrasted markedly with another standout from the same sessions, the spine-chilling ballad "I'd Rather Go Blind." Despite the death of Leonard Chess, Etta James remained at the label until 1975.


1 comment:

Kathy said...

Thanks for the video, Henry, I had never heard "I'd rather be blind" but now I've added it to my playlist.