Sunday, May 15, 2011

Etta James

This mornings paper brought me the sad news that Etta James is in the hospital again. The 73 year old singer, who has influenced scores of stars, from Janis Joplin to Beyonce, is battling a blood disorder, along with dementia and lukemia. This incredible woman was born on January 25, 1938 in Los Angeles. She was considered somewhat of a child prodigy, singing solo in church at the age of 5. By age 12 she was living in San Francisco, where she formed her first band, a trio. Soon after that, she was working with Johnny Otis and his band.

The year I was born (1954) Ms. James moved back to Los Angeles, where she recorded the slightly off color "Roll With Me Henry" under the title of "The Wallflower" with Johnny Otis. This was also the year in which she changed her name from Jamesetta Hawkins to Etta James. Her nickname at the time was "Peaches." Her first recording as Etta James was the 1955 release of "Good Rockin' Daddy."

By 1960 she had signed with Chess Records out of Chicago and gave us a string of hits that will never be forgotten. From the soulful "At Last", "All I Could Do Was Cry" and "Trust In Me", her sound got bigger and better. By 1967 Leonard Chess had her working at Fame Studios, where she would record the album "Tell Mama" with the Muscle Shoals house band.

Active as a performer all the way through the 1990's, Ms. James continued to give it her all; from live concerts to TV specials on PBS, she just kept on comin'. Her wit and sass are evident in every performance and recording. She won her third Grammy in 2004 for "Blues to the Bone." Her last album to date was the 2006 release of "All the Way", on which she performed cover versions of her favorite songs. The artists she covered included Frank Sinatra, Prince, Marvin Gaye and James Brown.

Things don't look that great right now for Ms. James. And short of wishing her a speedy recovery, a longshot at best, I can only thank her for the soundtrack she provided to my chidhood on a 6 volt transistor radio. Here's a link to "All I Could Do Was Cry."

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