RIP Etta James (1938-2012)
Etta James, a woman with a delicious, complex voice that pioneered the modern R&B sound, has passed following complications from leukemia. She was 73. James' gorgeous version of Glenn Miller's "At Last" will forever be a wedding staple, but the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer was no sentimental pushover. Troubled beginnings, a torn-up family, and battle with heroin that she won all dotted the feel of her music, and the massive boulder's weight of her stanzas.
NPR's Ann Powers brought this cover of Prince's "Purple Rain" to light, and it's exemplary of how she could take over even the most established of tunes for her artistry.
Many, many, many contemporary artists carry on the great tradition of Etta James. You can hear it in Adele's expression, and here's a local performance of "Fool That I Am."
And aside from that Flo Rida tune from last year, Etta's rightful place in hip-hop has spread afar. My favorite sampling of her rich voice is a snippet of the undeniable take on "My Funny Valentine" in Kanye West's "Addiction."
And again, this is a woman who wasn't going to just let the hands of time push her away from her rightful place in the R&B/soul pantheon. Notably in 2009, Etta James was took umbrage with Beyonce -- who portrayed her in Cadillac Records -- getting the nod to sing "At Last" at President Obama's inauguration. James said she could still sing it better, and any true artist holds onto that knowing pride as long as they're breathing. We lost a champion for that individual, no-nonsense spirit today, and she will be missed.
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