Etta James At Last
January 21, 2012 by staff
Etta James At Last, Legendary singer Etta James has died at the age of 73, from complications with leukemia. While the Grammy-award winning singer and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honoree had other hits, such as “I’d Rather Go Blind” and “Don’t Tell Mama,” James was best known for her soulful rendition of “At Last” — which has become one of the most beloved wedding songs of all time.
Although “At Last” was originally written for the 1942 musical film “Orchestra Wives” by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren, James made the song her own in 1961 — improvising on the melody and adding her own jazz-inflected vocals alongside the swooning strings.
Since then, countless couples have used her romantic rendition to make their Big Days memorable.
Greg Johnson, a blues curator and associate professor at the University of Mississippi, says the song is a wedding go-to because of the lyrics. “The title alone makes it a highly appropriate song for love finally consummated in marriage,” Johnson told The Huffington Post.
But he also says there’s more to the song than just the lyrics. According to Johnson, the style of James’ “At Last” suggests that the singer may have been influenced by the jazz songs that her mother loved. “There are stylistic elements that are in line with some of the jazz standards from the 1930s and ’40s. The orchestral arrangements were very tastefully done, thickening up the sound of the recording and adding a dimension that a simple rhythm section lacks.”
James’ husky, soulful voice is one of the most obvious explanations for how the song has become so legendary. Matt Sakakeeny, an assistant professor of music at Tulane University, categorized “At Last” as a “slow burner.” “Slow burners are moody and sxy in a way that remains publicly permissible,” he told The Huffington Post. “[The song] has that edgy blues-inflected lead vocal that certain couples want to let their guests know that they’re not just a couple goodie-two-shoes — that there’s going to be some action going on in the honeymoon suite later that night.”
Even celeb wedding planner Sharon Sacks danced to “At Last” at her wedding in 1986. “For our first dance, we talked about what would best share our love to one another,” Sacks told The Huffington Post. “The song ‘At Last’ said it all. Whenever I hear the song played at weddings, I look around the room and see couples singing along [while] they are in the arms of their date.”
And despite hearing it so many times, NYC-based DJ Andy Anderson (Gotham DJ) has said that the sentiment of the song trumps its familiarity. “It’s true that “At Last” has become one of ‘those songs’ … But there’s a reason. It’s just a damn great song,” Anderson told The Huffington Post. “Etta James telling that story about the quest for true love — I defy anyone not to be moved by that.”
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