Remembering Etta James

I know its too late now, but if I had my way, then it would have been you that serenaded the president and first lady during the inauguration with your treasured hit, “At Last.”

Ms. James, it was you who made the song what it was and turned the ballad into a standard jewel.

But,that song did not define you as a musician, if anything, it was your dynamic voice that made you one of America’s great blues vocalists.

It was your determined character and relentless demeanor that helped to make R&B the contemporary powerhouse that it is now.

But, above all else, it was your ability to transcend various genres such as pop, R&B, blues, jazz, gospel that put you in a class all by yourself.

James may have left us on January 20, but her music will live on.

So, rather than recount  history of James legendary career, I wanted to let her music do the talking to further showcase her talent as a powerful vocalist.

James made classic R&B hits such as “At Last”, “Pushover”  “All I Could Do Was Cry” and “Tell Mama,”  but she was also a master at covering standard pop and blues tunes. Much like her idol Billie Holiday, she could pretty much take a song from any genre and make it her own.

Here are just a few cover tunes that Ms. Etta James graced us with throughout the years.

“The Man I love”— from Mystery Lady: Songs of Billie Holiday Her ode to the jazz icon, who James says influenced her as a musician. James transitioned to more jazz related material later on in her career, and received a Grammy for Best Jazz Vocalist for Mystery Lady in 1994.

“A Sunday Kind of Love”—  From her 1961 debut album At Last. The lush, orchestral melody fits in perfectly with James dynamic vocal ability.

“Security”– From James’ 1968 album, Tell Mama. This hard-hitting soul track became a hit record for Otis Redding in 1964 and a few years later James turned  the song into a hit, entering the  Top 20 on the R&B Charts.

“Sweet Little Angel” — From James’ 1964 live blues album Etta James Rocks the House.  James version of  this blues standard can put chills down your spine and turn even the most non blues person into a fan. Notable blues artists such as BB King and Big Mama Thornton also covered the tune. Feels like a gospel and blues song all tied into one.

“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” — From Blowin in the Wind: The Gospel Soul of Etta James.  James goes back to her gospel roots and takes on such classic spirituals as this one. The album was released in 2002 and displays James expertise in the gospel genre.


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