B.B. King wrote “Sweet Sixteen” with her in mind.
Etta James blazed a number of trails.The influence she had on American popular music dates to a hotel room near the Primalon Ballroom in San Francisco in 1954. The singer Johnny Otis was tired, but he agreed to audition a shy 16-year-old named Jamesetta Rogers for his show.
She was so nervous that she couldn't face Otis and sing. She retreated to the more acoustically forgiving bathroom and sang from afar. The bathroom. Otis wanted to sign her on the spot—but needed parental consent because of her age.
There was just one problem. She'd never met her father and her mother was in jail.
With sixteen-year-old audacity, she faked the call for permission . . . and the rest, as they say, is history.
As Etta James grew, her voice and delivery also matured, allowing her a range that nailed ballads with a two-ton hammer.
“At Last” is the song she will forever be associated with. Written by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren, the original version was recorded in 1941. It was a life-affirming fairy tale of true love, recorded by the Glenn Miller Orchestra. The emotion that James packed into the song was deeply felt. Her phrasing of the first line expressed a Sunday sermon's worth of words: “At last,” she sings, sounding both relieved and overjoyed as a candle-lit string section supports her voice, “my love has come along.” It's one of the great singing moments in American music.
She had few crossover hits and faded from the charts by the end of the 1960s, though her 2003 comeback album, “Let's Roll,” was well received and won a Grammy Award. By then, though, the years of substance abuse and struggles with weight had taken their toll.
Our country lost an icon of the recording industry today. At last . . . here is Etta:
Love from Delta.