Friday, January 25, 2008

"Take It To The Limit" by Etta James

If there's one thing Etta James knows all about it, it's taking things to the limit; for more than fifty years she's been honing her own variety of soul that's been rubbed raw by losses in love, in a record industry that treats women badly and black women even worse.

Born on this day seventy years ago in Los Angeles, while still a teenager James formed a doo-wop group called The Peaches, who got their big break auditioning for producer Johnny Otis. Their first single - The Wallflower (Dance with Me, Henry) - was released in 1955 as an answer song to Hank Ballard's Work With Me, Annie; James would have to wait six more years to strike gold on her own, and when she did she struck a very rich vein indeed.

Her performance in At Last, inspired by her love for her new husband Harvey Fuqua, remains her signature tune to this day; having attained the penultimate position on the R&B charts, it made it all the way to 22 on the pop charts - far enough to guarantee play at countless sock hops, thus embedding it into the hearts of white and black kids alike.

It was followed by such hits as Trust In Me, A Sunday Kind of Love, and my personal favourite Tough Mary. Interest in James' career revived when her songs began showing up in television commercials in the mid-1990s, striking a sentimental chord in the generation who grew up listening to them and endearing her to a whole new audience at the same time.
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