When starting to read and listen to 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die, I had decided to just start from the beginning (“A”) and move through the book in order (to “Z”), not even looking ahead. I break that rule with the death of the great Etta James. I had seen Etta several years ago at the Sculler’s Jazz Club, a bar high above the Charles River in Boston. Even then she was somewhat frail and sick, sitting for most of the performance. We didn’t begrudge her this. Yet her voice was still capable and strong as she belted out song after song after song in the beautifully pure yet gritty voice she had.
I had heard reports in mid-December that she was dying, but she hung on until mid January. Ironically, her death was preceded by just a few days with the death of Johnny Otis (he of “Willie and the Hand Jive” fame) , a blues and rock pioneer who was inextricably linked to James as well as other greats. In fact Otis discovered Etta James (as well as Big Mama Thornton). [more]