Music can be a form of perfection - with nothing added or subtracted, flawless just the way it is.

Etta James

19. November 2012 Billie, Holiday, Blues, Dinah, Washington, Etta, James, Jazz, Soul, Women

Etta James

Here’s a singer! Nicknamed ‘Miss Peaches’, Etta James was born in 1938 and her amazing career spanned from the 50’s to around 2010. She left a great legacy and a big amount of wonderful music for us to enjoy. If you don’t know her, you should read on, because in my experience, everyone seems to like Etta James. Doesn’t matter what music you’re into, there’s a chance you’ll enjoy Etta.

I started listening to Miss Peaches after a recommendation from a good friend and she’s been one of my favourite female singers ever since. She has probably the strongest voice I’ve ever heard in a woman and with it she can sing whatever she wants. She defies labels and genres, so it’s really hard to say what she sings, but I’d say it’s a bit of jazz, a bit of blues, a bit of soul, and a bit of R’n’B. She also didn’t like being put into a category and she said that she just sings what she sings and it doesn’t really matter what you call it.
Most people will know her by the song At Last or maybe I’d Rather Go Blind, but there’s more to her than just those two songs. What I like about her is that it doesn’t matter what mood I’m in, I can always find an album that’s appropriate. Anyway, I would recommend you get some kind of Best Of Etta James album, because it’s hard not to like her, and I doubt you’ll be sorry. Also on the recommended listening list are These Foolish Things from her Billie Holiday tribute album and a duet with Dr John - I’d Rather Go Blind, which I personally think is probably one of the best duets ever.

Miss James had a turbulent life, which sometimes reminds me of that of Billie Holiday. She was born to a 14 year old mother, she never met her father, and throughout her whole life, she was struggling with relationships and drug addictions. You could say that, like Lady Day, she also not only sang the blues, but lived the blues. She explains that because she felt the pain, she could sing the songs the way she did.
Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington were her greatest influences. I talked about Billie Holiday before and I’ll talk about Dinah Washington next time, since they’re all connected in a way.
Etta admired Lady Day greatly. I was watching an interview with Etta, in which she described how the two met in the 50’s. Miss James was only about 17, 18 at the time and when she met her, Billie was very weak. Her feet were all swollen, two men had to help her walk around and, as Etta remembers, her hands were almost like boxing gloves. Etta observed her nervously and eventually their eyes locked and Billie said to her “don’t ever let this happen to you”. In hindsight, she found this intriguing and strange and it had haunted her for a while. The thing is that at the time, she wasn’t into drugs at all, but later when she got addicted, she remembered that moment and wondered “Why did she say that to me? Why did she look in my eyes and say that?”. I think it’s all very interesting how even though she didn’t want it, her idol’s fate got a hold of her and how that very same idol could foresee it. (this is a nice thought)

If I had to choose one song to try to introduce someone to Etta James, it would probably be an obvious choice like All I Could Do Was Cry. But if I wanted to choose a song which would showcase her singing, her interpretations, her raw emotions, it would have to be Feeling Uneasy. The song is just filled with pure pain, sorrow and hurt and she delivers it perfectly. They recorded the album while she was in rehab, and when they recorded this particular song, the withdrawal was especially bad. She was in so much pain that she was actually unable to sing the lyrics. All she could do was shout and moan, so they just let the tape roll and this is what they came up with. A haunting, painful and poignant piece of music.

What do you think? What about Etta James, do you like her? What are your experiences with her music? Please, share your thoughts!

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