Study Guide

At Last Introduction

At Last Introduction

In a Nutshell

The world mourned when jazz, soul, and blues legend Etta James died in January of 2012 from leukemia and ongoing health problems. Stevie Wonder performed at the funeral. Reverend Al Sharpton delivered the eulogy, complete with a praise of her "swagger." Barack Obama even made a cameo by way of Sharpton reading a statement.

But Etta didn't go down without a fight. Literally.

It was unsurprising, though, as James' career has been filled with drama and controversy. In fact, "At Last" was Barack Obama's song of choice for his inaugural ball. But it was performed by Beyoncé. In true Etta fashion, the "original diva" (source) lashed out, knocking Obama's big ears and cracking that Queen Bey was in for a whooping.

Sure, James laid a forceful claim to the song in 2009, when America's R&B sweetheart got blasted by R&B's spitfire. But the song's a classic, and it had been covered by countless singers, both before and after James recorded it in 1960.

So, "At Last," her signature song, has the honor of being one of the most popular wedding songs, a presidential inaugural ball song, and a song at the center of a potential divas-of-all-divas match-up. 

TL;DR: Obama forgave James for the jab at his ears, Beyoncé didn't get punched, and James got over it. And to be honest: we wouldn't have Queen Bey without Etta James.

About the Song

ArtistJames, Etta
Year1961
LabelChess Records
Writer(s)Mack Gordon, Harry Warren
Producer(s)Phil Chess, Leonard Chess
Musician(s)Etta James (vocals), Chess Records house band (instrumentals)
Learn to playChords
AlbumAt Last!

Music Video

Influences on James, Etta

Billie Holiday
Dinah Washington
Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Ruth Brown

Influenced by James, Etta

Beyoncé
Bonnie Raitt
Janis Joplin
Diana Ross
Amy Winehouse
Adele
The Rolling Stones
Rod Stewart

At Last Resources

Books

Etta James and David Ritz: Rage to Survive: The Etta James Story (1995)
James' autobiography leaves no stone unturned, telling her stories of childhood neglect, utter junkie breakdown, friendships with hookers and drag queens, and troublesome sexual relationships. The frank grit of the writing style comes across as genuine Etta and makes for a fun read.

Albums

All The Way (2006)
James' most recent work hit just before she was diagnosed with several severe illnesses. The reviews were middling, but it seems James was going for something middle-of-the-road; Amazon describes it as "the easy-listening genre."

Etta James: Her Best: The Chess 50th Anniversary Collection (1997)
The Chess years were not the only years for Etta James, but her partnership in the studio with Leonard and Phil Chess produced most of her classic tracks (most notably "At Last," which opens the album).

At Last! (1961)
True fans of old R&B and soul will love this James album, perhaps above all others.

Images

Etta James and Beyoncé Knowles
BFFs.

Etta Circa the 1960s
The bleached hair and dark eyebrows have become something of a signature look for her.

Movies & TV

Cadillac Records (2008)
This is a fictionalized version of the Chess Records story, in which Beyoncé plays Etta James. James might not have liked Bey much, but this is a can't-miss film if you're interested in its subjects—not just Etta, but Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Little Walter, Howlin' Wolf, and the legendary Chess brothers, too.

Websites

Etta James on Allmusic.com
James has ascended from star to legend. Allmusic does a great job detailing her career alongside reviews and credits for all of her albums.

Etta James on Biography
This one's straight and to the point: a great comprehensive biography on our legendary singer.

Video & Audio

Etta James Legacy
Legacy Recordings is a site that offers free listening to classic or influential music. Listen to previews or full-length songs arranged in playlist format.

Beyoncé's "At Last" For the 2009 Presidential Inauguration
James was super-angry, but this might have been in part because Beyoncé was so, so unbelievably good when delivering this rendition of the song to the Obamas. She almost cried, Michelle almost cried...everybody just about cried. Not to be missed.

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