Etta James has died. Incredibly the singer who began her career over half a century ago was only seventy-three. James was a diva in the time before that word meant more than “female singer.” She was known primarily as an R&B singer because of her work with Chess Records, but she was so much more than that. Jazz, blues, soul, gospel, rock & roll, and whatever else struck Ms. James’s fancy were all part of her body of work. As Duke Ellington would have noted approvingly, Etta James was Beyond Category. Unfortunately the public was not always so quick to catch up, with deleterious effects on her career.
Etta was about more than the music, however. With her curves, dyed platinum hair and feline eyes she oozed female sexuality in a way that was aggressive but never vulgar. Let’s just say it never would have occurred to Etta to flash her vagina in public the way so many of today’s singers and actresses do.
We will miss you Etta.
Johnny Otis, the man who discovered her, died on Tuesday at ninety. Like James, Otis worked in many genres. He started as a big band leader but was also one of the pioneers of early rock & roll. It was Otis who produced Leiber and Stoller’s “Hound Dog” for Big Mama Thornton before it was covered by Elvis and others.