For most people, today’s sad news of Etta James’s death at the age of 73 immediately conjured the sound of her honey-coated voice singing these words: “At last ... my love has come along.”
While, as Click Track notes, James performed many songs beautifully during her long career, it is “At Last” — a cover of a tune first recorded in 1941 by the Glenn Miller Orchestra and that, via James’s vocal chords, has launched an untold number of marriages as the go-to first-dance song at weddings — for which she will be remembered most.
The James version of “At Last” has made an undeniable pop-cultural mark, popping up during memorable scenes in films (“Pleasantville”), movie trailers and commercials for numerous products (Jaguar and Guinness among them).
It’s also been covered by many other artists, including, most notably, Beyonce.
The mother of Blue Ivy Carter was tapped to play James in the 2008 film “Cadillac Records,”which gave her an opportunity to croon on the big screen the ultimate expression of a love officially blossoming.
At the Fashion Rocks event in 2008, which synched nicely with Beyonce’s efforts to promote “Cadillac Records,” she sang it again.
And then, during the celebrations surrounding President Obama’s inauguration in 2009, she sang it, tearfully, another high-profile time. On that night, the song’s expression of a romantic promise fulfilled clearly spoke to the hope that political promises would be fulfilled, not to mention the notion that, at last, an African-American had assumed this nation’s highest honor.
James famously spoke out against Beyonce’s inauguration performance during a concert in Seattle (“She’s going to get her [bleep] whupped,” she told her audience), but later said her remarks were meant as a joke.
Whatever the case may be, the link between the legendary James and Beyonce is strong enough to prompt Popdust to suggest that if a tribute to James happens at this year’s Grammy Awards, Beyonce would be the logical person to croon “At Last,” marking her return to the spotlight post-motherhood.
Not a bad idea. Here’s an even better one: Let’s listen to the lady who sang “At Last” first and best and whose loss is being felt by music fans everywhere today.