James Porter and Bethany Thomas pay tribute to Etta James

February 2, 2012

Etta James died last week after losing her battle with leukemia. But Downbeat Magazine contributor James Porter remembers a 1985 Chicago Blues Festival performance when she was still rocking her music and her wicked sense of humor.

He's joined by Bethany Thomas (who wowed in Court Theatre's Porgy and Bess last year), singing an a cappella version of the song that James made famous, "At Last." Read an excerpt and listen below: 

First time I saw Etta James live, it was at the Chicago Blues Festival. Even though her first hit record was entitled 'Wallflower,' Ms. James was anything but. She was moving all over that grandshell stage in Grant Park showing that no cobwebs grew where Etta James stood.

Now that was in 1985. And...from the '50s on up to last week, Etta James kept rocking the house all throughout her life. But what really stood out to me at the Chicago Blues Festival show -- it sounds gory now, but at that time I thought it was the most clever thing anybody could have said -- She's like, doing this incredible show, right up there at Petrillo Bandshell. At the midway point, she turned to the crowd and said, "Y'all thought I was dead, didn't ya?"

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