So Today is the Birthday of Etta James, Anita Baker and Ellen DeGeneres. Weird combination of Celebrity Birthdays I’d say.
I don’t think I’ve extensively covered Etta James, as oddly she is one of the few Female R&B singers of the Rock era that deservedly gets all the credit and recognition that she deserves. In the mighty triumvirate of Teen to Twentysomething R&B ingenues from the 1950s that bridged the Gap between Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughn and Big Momma Thorton to Mary Wells, Dionne Warwick, Aretha Franklin and countless Girl Groups she stands far above her peers Ruth Brown and LaVern Baker..
albeit those two actually sold more records and had bigger crossover hits at the time and their careers were dead as soon as the 1960s arrived.
The basis of Etta’s cultural iconography seems to be limited to “At Last” and then maybe “Tell Mama” and “I Just Wanna Make Love To You” but as a woman that recorded and was a den mother of modern soul music (without the influence of her Uptown Soul leaning At Last LP there’d be no template for people to springboard from during the early/mid 1960s) And her initial R&B hit “Roll with my Henry” (w/The Peaches) is implicit in introducing “Call & Response” vocals to pop music.
Her classic Chess years, though I lean towards the block of hits starting with “Somethings Got a Hold On Me” in 1962 to “Security/I’d Rather Go Blind” in 1968 as her classic period as essential listening. My favorites include the cheesy cha-cha classics “Pushover” (surprisingly, at it’s #25 Pop peak, her second biggest Pop hit ever) it’s follow-up “Payback” and the ode to the cool dudes “Mellow Fellas” (1964).
So, on her 72nd birthday, I’d 1) advise you to find a copy of her hilarious “auto” biography Rage to Survive Including many passages of her early affinity with her gay fan base (and thanking them for her classy/trashy stage persona of Endora Eye Make-up, Platinum blonde bouffants and skin hugging gowns that were only rivaled by The Ronettes Spanish Harlem Prostitute tributes), and some hilarious insights into the horrors of drug abuse… and the thrills of robbing banks and Stealing Cadillacs…
Um, and as you do, at least dive head into her well documented chess recording career Starting with “All I Could Do Was Cry” in 1960..
Whatever you do… Don’t watch Cadillac Records
Beyonce…as Etta James…. Child Please….