From an Etta James interview:
“…I used to go to Baltimore at least two or three times a year, at the Royal Theatre. Remember that theater? Now that was a bum theater. Everybody that ever went there would be terrified to go. ‘Where are you working?’ ‘Oh, I’m working at the Royal Theatre in Baltimore. And then I’d go to the Howard Theatre in Washington.’ There was one more — we called them the funky three.

“…They were the funkiest theaters because people would come in there with pickles, with olives, with boiled eggs and get ready to throw all kinds of stuff at you. And the thing is, they used to throw the stuff. It wasn’t heartbreaking to people like me or Sam Cooke. It was the older entertainers that didn’t understand. “Why are they going to be throwing popcorn at me?’… ”

Friends: How ironic that two big names in music history– Johnny Otis and Etta James–died this week. Both had worked together and had an influence on rock and roll.
The first time I heard Etta James sing “Something’s Got a Hold On Me” I was hooked. Years later broadcast giant Larry Dean introduced me to this tall blonde buxom woman built like a “brick house” with the raspy voice. Later when she performed at Artscape I was shocked to see her on a scooter in poor health but still belting out the Etta classics. The last time I saw her was at the Meyerhoff she arrived almost two hours late, walked on the stage, never apologized and performed nonstop singing jazz, blues and R&B. You see, Etta, Baltimore came along way from the Royal Theater.

“At Last” is what put her on the charts for most people but she was a star long before that; belting out classic after classic like her “Wait, Wait, Stop the Wedding” you could just feel the pain she was experiencing. Then she would sing “I’d Rather Go Blind” or tell us to “Tell Mama All about It.” I could go on and on.

Well. she got upset with the President because Beyonce’s version of “At Last” was used at the Obama inauguration. I couldn’t get mad at her because she didn’t realize that like “Joe Turner her train had come and gone.” And I prayed that she would realize that because of her Beyonce could sing that song and it will always be Etta’s song although in 1942 it belonged to someone else.

Whenever I hear “At Last” I close my eyes and groove to the soulful melody. It was surprising that in an interview that Etta gave to a reporter years ago she said she felt that Baltimore was a raunchy city and treated entertainers poorly.

But Etta, for the record, we love you and “At Last” may you find peace. I know this interview will bring back memories.

Valerie

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