Friday, January 20, 2012
The sheer force of passion and pain that pushed through Etta James' voice transcended genres, eras and cultures. She was known as a singer's singer who could sing rock, r&b, blues and jazz with equal ease but Etta earned the title of blues diva long before the term became popular. She believed in the honesty of blues music. I'll never forget when I first saw her perform live in Chicago, she declared, "Blues is life. People who don't like the blues are phony people." That may be a highly generalized statement but that was Etta, she didn't mince words or hold back what she felt. And neither did her music. Her voice could roar with authority, it could purr with sultriness. Whatever she sang, from covers like her signature "At Last" which was a Glen Miller tune, to the songs that she wrote like "I'd Rather Go Blind,", she stamped them with the undercurrent of sass and ache in her voice and made them her own. With four Grammy Awards and inductions into the Blues Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, she was widely acknowledged as one of the most influential female singers ever yet she never quite got her due. She lashed out at Beyonce for singing her signature song at the 2009 presidential inauguration because Etta should have been invited to sing it or at least acknowledged for popularizing it. She battled for respect and acknowledgement throughout her 60 year career and in the end, she's being hailed as matriarch of the blues, one of the most unforgettable singers of all time. At last.