Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"At Last" by Etta James

Birthday wishes go out today to Etta James, whose best known song made the news in 2009 when it was performed by Beyonce* at the Neighborhood Ball following the Inauguration of Barack Obama, during which performance the new president shared a romantic dance with First Lady Michelle Obama.

Here we see James herself performing the title track to her breakthrough album in a fairly recent clip, since old school footage of her is tragically rare. Yet her 1961 version of the ballad At Last, while far and away the most famous**, wasn't its debut; the song was first performed in the 1941 Sonja Henie vehicle Sun Valley Serenade, whereas it was first sung by Ray Eberle and Pat Friday in the same year's film Orchestra Wives, with music in both instances supplied by Glenn Miller.

*Who played Etta James in the 2008 film Cadillac Records opposite Adrien Brody, and somehow or other managed not to screw up the arrangement when she sang it.

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Anonymous said...

while far and away the most famous, wasn't its debut; the song was first sung by Ray Eberle and Pat Friday in the 1941 film Orchestra Wives, with music supplied by Glenn Miller.

More internet misinformation above. You almost got it right, but the 1941 film was SUN VALLEY SERENADE...and the song was cut from the film. The song was re-recorded and rearranged and sung by Eberle and Friday in 1942 in ORCHESTRA WIVES, but not before a commercial studio recording for RCA VICTOR was released to the public in 1942.

The Miller version is far more famous than the Etta James version. Most Etta James listeners only know her recording and none others, so they proclaim it the 'most famous'.

michael sean morris said...

Thanks for the heads up! I will recheck my information and make the necessary changes, although I still stand by my assertion that James' version is the most famous, since its appearance more or less buried the earlier version.

Maybe at the time Glenn Miller's version was bigger - it's almost impossible to quantify such things - and maybe if he hadn't died so soon after its recording it would have co-existed, but I have half a dozen Glenn Miller CDs in my collection (and numerous 78s from my grandparents besides) and 'At Last' doesn't appear on any of them.

Still, this is what I get for giving myself such a punishing writing schedule; it means I rely too heavily on Wikipedia, and don't often have time to double check against the far more reliable Internet Movie Database.

Anyway, thanks for being reasonable about it.