By Emily Brickler
Had she lived, singer Etta James would have celebrated her 80th birthday on the 25th of January this year.
Etta James was an African-American singer of blues, jazz, rock-n-roll, R&B, gospel, soul. As a matter of fact, there isn’t much in the way of music genres that Etta didn’t cover! Etta started singing at the age of five in her church choir. The story goes that the choir director would thump her in the chest to force her to sing from her gut. This was a harsh way to get his point across, but Etta developed an incredibly strong voice for a child her age. Etta lived in foster homes much of her life, as her mother was absent most of the time. She never really figured out who her father was, although she speculated that it was the pool player “Minnesota Fats,” whom she actually met later in her life.
When Etta was around the age of 12 to 14, her mother reentered her life and things began to get better. She started listening to doo-wop and was inspired to form a girls group called the Creolettes. Etta had her first hit single when she was 15 years old, and she began to go steady with BB King when she was 16. She believed that King’s hit single “Sweet Sixteen” was written about her.
She is probably best known for her hit song “At Last,” which was released on her debut album of the same name in 1960. Although the album did not do as well as was expected, that version of the song remains the most popular version of all time. In 2003, Etta James was given the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. She died in January of 2012, just five days before her 74th birthday.
On February 22, 2018 at 7:30 p.m., Leach Theatre will present Sweet Honey in the Rock, an all-female, African-American, a cappella singing group. Much like Etta James, they will be covering a wide variety of music genres.
Art Matters is a weekly column sponsored by Leach Theatre, a division of Student Affairs, on the campus of Missouri S&T, and produced by Emily Brickler, Managing Director of the theatre and ten-year veteran teacher with a Masters of Art in Teaching from Webster University.