Wednesday, February 8, 2012

It is a story of a famous white man who took the virginity of a 14 year old young black child and produced a talented well known singer for this country. She is Etta James, who has earned the title of “ The Matriarch of the Blues” who recently died and is mostly know now for her song “At Last” that our President danced with his wife to at his Inauguration Event.
She died of complications from Leukemia at the age of 73. If you are sad about something in your life, something unexpected but something destined to happen eventually, listen to the work of this singer. Her style will compound your feelings and make you mellow with a bottle of Jack at your side. Etta James didn’t just sing the blues, she lived her life being blue. So, no wonder all her songs are recorded with such passion and true feeling as she sings the lyrics so well. Her work never goes out of style.
This girl was born James Etta Hawkins to a 14 year old black mother who told her that her father was the very famous pool hall shark Minnesota Fats. Yeah, the fat white guy who made lots of money paying pool. Etta was light skinned and looked remarkably like him but he never recognized her as his child. That is enough to make anyone want to sing the blues.
Becoming a Gospel singer in her church choir, she stood out from the crowd of black singers, although she looked like she had black heritage she dyed her hair bright blond for much of her life. Luckily, she was discovered one day by simply singing on the street by a band leader and talent scout Johnny Otis who heard her as he passed her by walking. Incidentally or coincidently or ironically he also died the same week she died. Maybe they are together forever now. Who knows we are still here.
Now, that is the way to be discovered. Similar to the “You Suck” shows we are bombarded with now in disguise known as “America Has Talent’ or “The Voice” or “American Idol.” These shows also make you sing without any assistance from musicians , just sing something. Soon she and her group known as “The Peaches” became famous with their raunchy hit called “The Wallflower” go listen to it somewhere.
A record company signed her in 1960 and her story was recreated in a film called “Cadillac Records” staring Adrian Brody and Beyonce Knowles who tried to sing her songs as she did and played the part of Etta James. See the movie again. Some of her albums are called Etta James Rocks The House, Etta James The Second Time Around, Tell Mama Etta James. None of the songs sound dated and they are good for a good slow dance too.
In the 60’s Etta had a string of hits. Her signature song became “At Last.” She should have been rich and much more famous but as usual that happens to way too many singers, Etta became friends with drug addiction and had legal troubles that took most of her money. Until, in the 1990’s she won her first Grammy, By then she was fit and drug free and managed to have some money left.
In 2003, she also received a life achievement award given to her by Aretha Franklyn who called her a unstoppable Rhythm and Blues powerhouse for half a century. Quite a nice thing coming from The Queen of Soul. She also received awards for Rock and Roll. And she received her star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame. She knew she was recognized and was loved in the musical community.
At the ceremony, she said, ”I wish my Mother had been here to see me here today.”
In her autobiography, Etta James said it was her rage that kept her going. It is a good read, buy it maybe from a small book store in a small town somewhere in Florida or someplace. The book is called ‘Rage To Survive, The Etta James Story written by Etta James and David Ritz.
She had an unforgettable voice pushed on by real talent. Thank goodness her child mother decided to keep her and not get a back alley abortion which was the only thing offered to women in those days or we wouldn’t have had her music that the world still can enjoy even after her death.

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