Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Dearest Etta

ETTA JAMES DIED THIS WEEK. As the obituaries noted, Etta James was the embodiment of a soulful blues singer. But she could do many things: deliver an Irving Berlin standard straight-up, play like a kitten with jazz syncopations, or just go completely rent-party funky. She did tough and tender, sassy and clingy, sexy and rejecting. Every note sounded felt, every phrase sounded considered. She delivered creative expression that was sophisticated and basic at the same time.

She was also a bridge builder between her mostly-Black original fan base and the mostly-White audiences that supported her in recent years. She connects uptown joints, race records, Chess label royalty, decades of neglect and abuse, and then a late-life "comeback" that's better described as a re-discovery.

The death of Etta James came six months after the death of Amy Winehouse, the finest blues singer of this young century, and a talent hard to imagine without the influence of the great Etta James. RIP.

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