Friday, January 20, 2012

The lasting legacy of Etta James

The music world has suffered a tremendous loss with the passing of Etta James. The R&B/blues singer died on Jan. 20 at the age of 73 after a long battle with leukemia and Alzheimer's.

Though her signature song will always be "At Last," James' career encompasses so much more than the classic love song.

She began her career at 14 years old, touring with girl group the Peaches, however she really gained notoriety when she joined Chess records and released the hits "If I Can't Have You" and "All I Could Do was Cry."

Her run with Chess in the early '60s gave James many of her biggest hits and most successful songs including "I Just Want to Make Love to You," "Something's Got A Hold On Me," "A Sunday Kind of Love" and of course "At Last."

Unfortunately, her success also led James to a drug and alcohol addiction that would she battle her entire life. Her struggles with heroin led to a long string of legal problems that saw her spend several stints in rehab. She finally got clean at the age of 50 after she spent time at the Betty Ford Center.

Despite her issues with addiction, her talent could never be denied as she made several comebacks and continued to influence artists like Beyonce, who played her in the 2008 film "Cadillac Records."

James, never one to mince words, made no secret of the fact that she didn't care for Beyonce's performance in the film, which took poetic license with the story of the label's founding, and of the fact that Beyonce was chosen to sing "At Last" at President Obama's inauguration.

While her career was filled with controversy, one only needs to look as far as the current pop charts for the full scope of James legacy. Her timeless style can be found in the resurgence of soul and success of artists like Amy Winehouse and Adele whose music is reminiscent of James' early work.

Her final album "The Dreamer" was released in November 2011. It features a raw stripped down version of the singer's classic blues voice. Her cover of "Misty Blue" has a heartbreaking finality to it that seems all too relevant now.

No doubt many stations will be playing "At Last" in tribute to the legend but all the passion, heartache and love of her music can really be found in "Misty Blue."

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