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, 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 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?
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…