At Last…

At Last...someone knows who I am...

I sang the damn song before any of you fools!!!

So yesterday, Etta James broke fool on my girl Beyonce. (And on my president. But I’m not touching that).

I listened to the audio on Wendy Williams’ radio show. And after I picked up my jaw off the floor, I could only shake my head.

I must confess, I don’t know much about Etta James.

But of course, I do think of the song At Last when I hear her name.

But let’s get a few things straight here.

It’s not Etta’s song.

A quick Google search tells me that “At Last” is a song written in 1941 by a songwriting duo named Harry Warren and Mack Gordon. The song was written and recorded for a 1942 musical titled Orchestra Wives. And Etta James was three years old.

In the movie Orchestra Wives, the song is “sung” by this woman:


Her  name is Lynn Bari. And she appeared in nearly a hundred films in the 30s and 40s. Here she is, “performing” At Last in Orchestra Wives.

But Lynn Bari, the young actress shown in the film, is actually lip-syncing the song to the voice of this woman:


Her name is Pat Friday. And she recorded the original vocals for the song. She was an occasional session vocalist for the Glen Miller band and was often uncredited on the recordings.

I wonder if Pat Friday was swiveling her neck and cursing Etta James out when Etta’s version took off in popularity in 1961?

I doubt it.

[Sidebar. I found Pat Friday’s story quite interesting. When you have a moment, check out this blog devoted to big band music and read a Q&A with Pat Friday…]

After Pat Friday’s rendition, At Last was covered by none other than Nat King Cole in 1957. Then Etta’s version was released a few years later. And then, it was covered by…

Are you ready for this?

Ben E. King, Shirley Scott, Brenda Lee, Laura Lee, Randy Crawford, The Fatback Band, Phoebe Snow, Diane Schur and B.B. King, Michelle Wilson, Gunther Neefs, Stevie Nicks, David McLeod, Eva Cassidy, Mary Coughlan, Celine Dion, Julia DeMato, Cyndi Lauper, Michael Feinstein and George Shearing, Raul Malo and Aretha Franklin.

So why is Ms. James screaming on Beyonce? I’ll tell you why.

Because Beyonce is an easy target: the woman seems faultless. Which is becoming her biggest fault. Her impenetrable, invisible armor is getting annoying and people want to see her get taken down a peg. I think Etta conveyed what many people feel. And it can be summed up in two words:

Whatever Beyonce.

Whatever Beyonce, singing for the president.

Whatever Beyonce, marrying Jay-Z on your own terms and not letting us see even one tiny pic.

Whatever Beyonce, killing the game every time you put out an album.

Whatever Beyonce.

Whatever Beyonce is like a disease. And a lot of people have it right now…

Let me make it clear,  I am not one of those people. I think Beyonce is the best thing since sliced bread. I worship her.  On the gossip blogs, I would be referred to as a “Stan.” (definition: a person who believes that their musical idol can do no wrong. provenance: a song by rapper Eminem called “Stan” about a crazed, suicidal fan.)

I think Beyonce’s talented. I think she’s beautiful. And I think, at this moment, she’s without peer in popular music.

And furthermore, I don’t trust people who don’t like Beyonce. There. I said it.

Seriously, when a woman, (and it’s usually a woman), starts saying things like, “she doesn’t sing, she just screams…” or “I’d be famous too if my Daddy made me the star of the group…” or “she is NOT all that” or “I wish she would just go away for a minute….” I try to move away from them. I don’t engage and I don’t debate.

But I do look at them with a crooked eye. (One of the gossip bloggers I love calls it “the side-eye.”)

Because, really. How does one go about hating on Beyonce? Maybe it’s because I’ve reconciled my fashion-reject status. Or maybe because I know I can’t sing and never will be able to do more than harmonize. Maybe cause I know I’m just a really regular chick with a really regular life. Maybe that’s why I’m okay with accepting the truth: Beyonce is the shit. Full stop.

Now I don’t know much about Etta James’ career. But I do know that she sounds like she’s full-to-bursting with Hatorade.

And it’s really unattractive.

I felt the same way when Aretha’s feathers got ruffled because Beyonce called Tina Turner, “The Queen,” at The Grammys. (Though B, you misspoke right there. Only one queen…)

I want my legendary singers to be regal and..queenly or something. I don’t want to hear them talking smack about the young folks.

I intended to use this post to remind Ms. James that Beyonce’s interpretation of “her” song was a tribute.  (Not that she reads my little old blog. But you know, just in case…)

But I just listened to the audio again. And I’ve changed my mind.

Ms. James is just wild for the night. That’s how she gets down. The more I listen to the audio, the funnier it gets. She’s breaking fool, kicking ass and taking names. And she sounds like she might be a little inebriated.

I think we’re supposed to treat Ms. James like that crazy great aunt on your father’s side who is always saying the wrong thing at the family gathering or at church. (Jamal, you know this can’t be your baby. Yellow as this child is. You ain’t get a blood test yet? Hmph. All this said while she’s holding little Jamal in her arms of course…)

When Auntie gets started on one of her tirades, you raise your eyebrows and then nod and smile and say, “yes Auntie, you’re right. She should have known better…singing your song.” And then you keep it moving.

Ms. James has since apologized. And now she says that the whole riff was all in fun. Which we all know is a crock. Someone just pulled her to the side and whispered in her ear:  you do not talk like that about Matthew Knowles’ firstborn child. It’s just not done.

I wish Etta James hadn’t apologized. If you’re going to be bad enough to say you want to whip Beyonce’s ass (!!!!!) please don’t apologize! Rock with that! Dare someone to say something to you!

But you know what I really wish?

I wish Beyonce hadn’t taken the high road she so loves to travel. The slightest criticism comes her way and there she goes! Speeding out on the high road. No comments. Nothing to see here. Keep it moving. I’ll be back, perfectly poised on the red carpet after all this blows over.

If nothing else, Ms. James’ outburst was the perfect opportunity for Beyonce to show us her neck-swivel. Show us she’s human.

‘Cause ultimately, if Beyonce wants to matter. If she wants to really have a career that spans decades, the way Ms. James’ does, isn’t she gonna have to let us in? Even a little bit?

Maybe not.

Whatever Beyonce.

dear readers, I’d love to hear from you. Was Ms. James dead wrong? Should we admire her? Or just feel sorry for her? And be honest, don’t you want Beyonce to speak her mind on this one? I know I do…

I’d love to hear from you…

16 Responses to “At Last…”

  1. Jenna Marie Christian Says:

    I deinitely think that miss etta had a little hate in her system. Although, i adore beyonce, Imust admit I am one of those that has gorwn just a bit tired of her. i mean I purchased the concert dvd’s and all because i love to see “sasha fierce” put on a show, but i was a bit amused and shocked by Etta ranting on…lol

    It seems as though a lot of the old school Diva’s that are legendary in their own right and still trying to hold on are becoming a bit sensitive, threatened, and angered by the “Beyonce” because she is “IT”… The girl has an undenicable stage presence and talent..

    I wonder if beyonce is going to act this way when she is 70 and a new young thang has taken over…lol

    great post…

  2. Robyn Curry Says:

    Youth envy, plain and simple.

  3. slb Says:

    People seem to be forgetting Ms. James decades-spanning battle with drug and alcohol addiction (which Beyonce JUST reminded us of a few months ago in Cadillac Records). Maybe she’s still salty *that* got put on blast (by B). Maybe she’s defensive that that’s why she wasn’t asked to sing, so she lashed out? This could all be residual Cadillac Records hate, is all I’m sayin’. Lol

    On another note: I don’t like “At Last” and even I was annoyed by B’s cover gettin’ all this shine (and I like B). Etta made it a standard; it would’ve been nice if she’d gotten to sing it at the inauguration. For me, it’d be like choosing Fantasia to sing Midnight Train to Georgia (not as a tribute, as a main feature at a historic event) while Gladys is still alive and still has her pipes.

    B is a good singer, but she’s never released a song iconic enough to perform for a Pres (not yet, anyway. It’s in her…). I thought, because Etta actually *has* and is still performing, it would’ve been right to include her. A duet, maybe?

  4. Michael Says:

    I read Etta’s ‘clarification’ and it was anything but. She basically reiterated everything she said the other night drunk. Her comments about Barack and Beyonce came across as petty, not to mention pretty two-faced considering she’s been gushing over Beyonce (I refer to her as the Queen — yes, I’m a [huge] stan) over the past few months.

    About 1:20 in if you listen closely Etta’s telling Beyonce, “I loved you the first time I saw you.” That is, until that brown kicked in.

    Beyonce performed the song at a Youth Ball. While I wouldn’t mind seeing Etta perform (or maybe not, considering her reviews that night), most people my age don’t know who she is. Maybe they will now because Beyonce played her on screen. Same with Mary doing “Sweet Thing.” I was 8 and had no clue who Chaka Khan was at the time. After that I learned from my parents.

    But Etta and Aretha have always been known to be nasty, so I can’t say that I’m surprised – though it’s pretty ironic since they pretty much did the same thing (snatching people’s songs away and making them their own) in their time.

  5. jay1 Says:

    I think james was just drunk and trying to be funny. either that or she’s lost her marbles. she sounded like she didn’t know the obama’s name or the event that beyonce sang at.

    also cadillac records was awful, maybe she was just venting about that.

  6. Aliya S. King Says:

    @ all my dear readers: damn. such good responses. you are all on point and gave me something to think about. jenna, you know B is not going to act like this at 70. She’ll be real Lena Horne with it.

    SLB makes a good point about Gladys Knight. That would have been weird. (Though you do realize that Grapevine has been covered by a million people too, lol). But I see your point. Although Gladys’ Q-factor is way higher than Etta James’ People just don’t know Etta like that. And from the sounds of the review of her recent performances, there may be a good reason why she wasn’t chosen to perform.

    And Michael, you’re right, both Etta and Aretha have reputations for being nasty. But I feel like we’re not supposed to say that out loud…

    and yes, Jay, she was clearly on something. EJ might have had some E&J before
    she took the stage. ha.

  7. slb Says:

    yeah, i know. that’s the main reason why i didn’t use grapevine as an example. i started to! but then i was like, “actually, i like marvin’s version better….” lol

    that’s just how they used to roll back then, stealing each other’s songs…. heh. in my opinion, it ain’t who recorded it first or how many people recorded it. it’s who’s mostly commonly associated with the song, b/c they made it their own. etta’s “at last” is the definitive version of that song. it really is.

    also: i get that people don’t know who she is (or that she’s still alive, for that matter), but that’s why a duet might’ve been nice….

    to your point, though, she’s probably ruined her vocal chords by now.

  8. Katura Says:

    I like that Beyonce takes the so-called “high road,” whether it’s at the insistence of her p.r. people, or if it’s just her natural inclination. You can’t give all you’ve got to everyone, and still have something for yourself. Yes, a little more personality would be interesting, but as long as she still puts on a good show, she’s doing her job. As for all the hate, I really just wish people would get over themselves. There’s always gonna be someone younger, cuter, more talented, more relevant or just better connected. We all know that, I just wish we’d remember that. I’m sure folk were hating on Miss Etta once. Or maybe not enough people were, and that’s part of her problem…..

  9. Aliya S. King Says:

    @SLB: whoa. Midnight Train To Georgia was originally recorded by Cissy Houston! Whitney’s mamma! The year before Gladys took it and ran with it. So Cissy would have been cursing Fantasia out AND she would have been cursing Gladys out if either of them had sung it. Damn! Are any songs NOT remakes?! but yeah, etta’s is the definitive verson.

  10. Aliya S. King Says:

    As a reporter, I *hate* that she’s smart enough to take the high road. She makes my job harder. (And it’s her. Not her people. Trust me.) But as a wife and mother, I SO get it. And I so understand it. And I so respect it. I really do.

  11. slb Says:

    now *that,* i did not know. and cissy strikes me as a hater, anyway (i used to think she hated on her own daughter’s success, so i know she was none too thrilled when gladys made “midnight” one of her standards. i don’t think of ANYONE when i hear that except gladys knight. lol)

  12. Alisha Says:

    Okay, I’m late. First off, Ms. James is a riot! She is a spunky lil thing, but I think it was a little out of order to call Bey out, then apologize. However, I do understand her bitterness about Bey singing “her” song at the ball. It’s similar to J-Hud vs. Jen Holliday/”You’re Gonna Love Me” deal. But even Ms. Holliday did a duet with Hudson (She did try to out-sing her though).

    As for Bey, I think this Little Miss Perfect deal is getting too out of hand even for her. Should she become a wild-child, cursing people out? Nah. Solo (Solange) has that taken care of. We need to see the human side, the REAL side of Bey. She said in several interviews for Cadillac Records that she loved playing Ms. James because she could use obscene language and that was so unlike her. However, she uses a few choice words on her deluxe I Am…Sasha Fierce CD. (I know it inside-out. I’m a semi-Stan. Definitely a huge fan.)

    All I can say is…just be you! I wonder if she actually got angry after she cried a river over this ordeal? I’m sure she did. She is human, after all.

  13. coffee Says:

    sounds like Etta might be jealous of Beyonce’s face time with the new Prez

  14. Baa-ith Says:

    Well first and foremost…YOU GO GIRL!!! I think the sum of all differences in this particular case IS…Whatever B!! lol I think ‘ol Etta definitely woke up, ate a couple gangsta cookies, and washed it down with a lil henny and hatorade for sure! How else do explain going off like that on Jr. Queen Beyonce’?! Hmmm This is the same old school vs. new skool hate that was displayed by the good ‘ol Rev. Jesse “Damn You Barack” Jackson vs. Barack “Negro Please” Obama!! I guess being proud of the accomplishments the future has continued off of the legacy of the past would be too much huh? Your point of view is definitely on point to say the least…and I will be tuned in for more! THANKS FOR SHARING!!!


  15. Aliya S. King Says:

    @baa-ith: yup. you hit the nail on the head. I think Jesse and Etta have been drinking out of the same cup…

  16. Aliya S. King Says:

    @baaith: oh, and coincidentally, they BOTH got caught on tape and had to defend themselves. hmmm.

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