Friday, January 20, 2012

And She Was

"The world was moving and she was right there with it
(And she was)
The world was moving she was floating above it
(And she was)
And she was."

Talking Heads

There was — and will forever be — only one Etta James.

James died earlier today at the age of 73, and, if anyone can be said to have experienced both the peaks and valleys of life, it would have to be Etta James.

Her health had been declining in recent years; it was already known that she was afflicted with dementia and kidney problems when it was revealed last month that she had chronic leukemia.

But she had other tribulations in her life. She struggled with her weight and painkillers and other drugs, spending some time in detox, and she had — shall we say? — issues with her mother, who was 14 when she was born. James never knew her father.

In between the hard times, though, there were moments of almost indescribable triumph.

Her signature song may well be "At Last," which was originally recorded by Glenn Miller, but James recorded a cover version nearly 20 years later — and, although others have recorded it since, it is James' version that was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

James herself can be found in both the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and the Blues Hall of Fame. Rolling Stone rates her 22nd among the greatest singers of all time. It's a list of accomplishments that any performer would envy.

"Most of the songs I sing, they have that blue feeling to it," she told CNN a decade ago. "They have that sorry feeling. And I don't know what I'm sorry about. I don't!"

Although I know of the hard times she endured, it is hard to understand why she should feel blue. After all, she was the opening act for the Rolling Stones at one time. To someone from my generation, little could be better than that.

Her recording of "At Last" may not have been a Top 40 hit when it was first released, but it continues to be a standard at weddings — and likely will remain one.

In that way, I suppose, Etta James will live on indefinitely.

That's good. I find it hard to imagine a world without Etta James in it.