In Memoriam: Etta James

I’ve put this post off for a couple of days because I just couldn’t find the words to express how I feel about the passing of an American legend.

Etta James died this past Friday. Her music has been part of my musical landscape for years. I can’t remember a day when I didn’t know who she was because my parents listened to her music, as well. I finally had the good fortune to catch her live in Nashville in 2007 or thereabouts, and she could still put on a heck of a show.

The quintessential scrappy bad girl, James crossed myriad musical genres. She could sing like a raunchy low-down blues empress one minute, then like an angel with a backing celestial chorus the next. Her personal life was filled with travails, and she did nearly destroy her voice through her addiction to heroine and then cocaine, but battled back so that by the late 1970s and early 1980s, she was opening for the Rolling Stones. She talked candidly about her addiction and rehab issues in her 1995 biography, Rage To Survive.

Etta James isn’t the kind of woman easy to talk about. Instead, you get a sense of who she was through the music she left us. She herself said that

“You can’t fake this music. You might be a great singer or a great musician but, in the need, that’s got nothing to do with it. It’s how you connect to the songs and to the history behind them.”

Indeed. I leave you now with a few of my favorites.

“The Sky Is Crying”


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“Love and Happiness”


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“The Wallflower” (Roll With Me Henry)


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“At Last” (probably the best-known James song)


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