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#ThrowbackThursday: “At Last” by Etta James

Etta James “At Last” Argo/Chess/MCA Records

by Sean Smith

Another week into the new year has passed and we have sadly learned about yet another significant death in the music industry. Glenn Frey, most widely known for co-founding the legendary rock ‘n roll band the Eagles, passed away on Monday at the age of 67. His contributions to music have been well documented and is well deserving of some reflection on the occasion of his passing. You can reflect back on the life and career of Glenn Frey by checking out this in-depth piece written by our very own Craig Clizbe here. As for this week’s Throwback, we are going to take a look back at a classic track from Etta James who passed away a few years back this week.

On January 20, 2012, just five days before her 74th birthday, Etta James passed away after a year plus long battle with leukemia. The gifted songstress was lauded for her unique gift of being able to blend real emotion with her exceptionally soulful voice, giving the music industry one emotional hit after another. A gift that was put on display for newer generations to discover and admire when her career was spotlighted in the 2008 film Cadillac Records, a film centered on her label Chess Records. She was portrayed in the movie by a pretty good artist in her own right, Beyonce Knowles.

Etta James was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Blues Hall of Fame, earned the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and was awarded with her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. These awards, along with the countless others, were earned not only because of the way she pioneered the blending of genres and her many contributions to the industry, but also because of the commercial success of so many of her records. Popular singles like “Something’s Got a Hold on Me”, “Trust In Me”, “I’d Rather Go Blind”, and “All I Can Do Was Cry”. And of course, her most well known hit single “At Last”, which we remember in this week’s edition of Throwback.

While we all know and love “At Last” as an Etta James song, it was in fact first recorded some 20 years before she lent her unmistakable voice to the track. It was originally written by Mack Gordon and Henry Warren in 1941 for a musical released by 20th Century Fox called Orchestra Wives. The original version was a just a tad bit more uptempo and featured a longer instrumental intro. It was also originally a duet sung by Pat Friday and Ray Eberle, with the accompaniment of the Glenn Miller Orchestra. The original was even a top 10 hit on the charts when the film was released in 1942. It had become somewhat of a standard in the industry when Etta James made it the title track to her Chess Records debut album in 1960. Her adaptation of the song was released as a single in 1961 and quickly became a hit on the charts, reaching the #2 spot on the R&B charts and crossing over to mainstream radio where it landed as high as 47 on the Hot 100 chart. It has since been recognized as Etta James’ signature song, and her version of the record was ultimately inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. It has been used in a number of films over the years like Rain Man and American Pie; and it was also the very first song that President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama danced to on the night of his Inauguration.

So with the anniversary of the death of the groundbreaking songstress Etta James being this week, we take a moment to remember her signature song “At Last”. Enjoy.

Etta James 

“At Last”

From At Last 

Argo/Chess/MCA Records

Pat Friday and Ray Eberle With The Glenn Miller Orchestra 

“At Last”

From  Orchestra Wives.

20th Century Fox

Related Media 

Cadillac Records (2008 Trailer)

Parkwood Entertainment/Sony Music Films/Tri Star Pictures

Beyonce Knowles 

“At Last”

From  Cadillac Records

Parkwood Entertainment/Sony Music Films/Tri Star Pictures