The first mistake Barack Obama made during his first term as President of the United States is not invite Etta James to sing her signature song “At Last” during the Inaugural Ball.
Miss Peaches was right to get her panties in a bunch and lash out at the President’s ears for the slight. She attacked him on a personal level because “At Last” was performed on a personal level; each swell of her voice and every note that it carried sounded like it came more from her heart than her diaphragm. It was an incredible instrument, and no sister come lately could effectively mirror Etta’s version.
Even when it was four decades removed.
I used to work at Iowa’s biggest public radio station, K.U.N.I., during my final two years of college and I can’t ignore how important that job was to my musical upbringing. It required me to go back to the masters, particularly during my weeknight music block where my old instructions were to play the blues between the hours of 8pm-9pm.
The station’s library had just received a large assortment of Chess records as their (then) parent company just undertook a large remastering effort of a bunch of their classic catalog titles.
Two of the titles caught my eye, particularly the eye-popping platinum blonde look of her At Last! long player.
But it was Tell Mama that caught my ears. I must have played that title track like a top forty smash for a while on my show. I was discovering what some people had already known for decades, that this Etta James lady was a badass, a probably deserving of such reverence that radio stations across the country should play at least one tune per night just to honor her greatness.
Soon after, James released a comeback album, Seven Year Itch, which was a fine representation of why Peaches was such a national treasure.
I didn’t even know she was sick. In fact, some of those from the hip comments towards Obama were later to be revealed as nothing more than side-effects of the medications that her illness required her to take.
It blows my mind that her passing coincides with the passing of Johnny Otis, the man that discovered her in the mid-50’s. Two giants from the early days of rock and soul walking in tandem to what’s becoming-unfortunately for those of us still here-a pretty awesome array of performers who changed the face of music.
And none of them came sweeter than this peach from Southern California.