https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OueyaMoUUt4
Music

‘Matriarch of Blues’ shakes up the stage with chillingly powerful voice

November 16th, 2020

Talent comes in many forms.

Some realize it and spend their entire lives pursuing it, steadily working to form a solid foundation. And many more are simply born with it inside of them, patiently arriving into the moment where they’re able to introduce it to the world. Some are born with a gift brimming inside of them—”raw talent” as some would care to describe it.

Just listen to Jamsetta Hawkins, better known as Etta James.

swiggle1 dot pattern2
YouTube/Etta James Source: YouTube/Etta James

Born in Los Angeles in 1938, she was a mere 14 years old when her powerful voice was discovered.

The same age her mother was when she was born. Her childhood wasn’t without flaw, she was a foster-home runaway—but there was something much bigger stirring inside of her. All of these events were only preparing her for what would become a legendary career.

At just 14 she had her first hit with the girl group, The Peaches.

swiggle1 dot pattern2
YouTube/Etta James Source: YouTube/Etta James

The hit, “Roll With Me Henry,” was an upbeat song that easily combined elements of gospel and blues.

These same elements helped to formulate the foundation of the early rock sound. The lyrics were deemed too taboo at the time for radio, but James’ robust vocals flourished in the moment, paving her a remarkable path.

James was but a minor when she went on to tour with Little Richard.

swiggle1 dot pattern2
YouTube/PIGGIE1960s Source: YouTube/PIGGIE1960s

The opportunities laid before her glittered in her eyes. She signed with a leading blues label, Chess Records, and bleached her hair platinum blonde.

swiggle1 dot pattern2
YouTube/PIGGIE1960s Source: YouTube/PIGGIE1960s

“What I was doing was trying to be a glamour girl,” she told NPR’s Fresh Air in 1994. “Because I’d been a tomboy, and I wanted to look grown and wanted to wear high-heeled shoes and fishtail gowns and big, long rhinestone earrings.”

As NPR puts it so poignantly:

“James had grit in her voice that could melt like sugar or rub like salt in a wound.”

It was this grit, and raw talent that sky-rocketed her to remarkable heights.

Between the years of 1960 and 1963, she had ten records that placed on the R&B charts, including the song we’re sharing today.

James’ performance of “Something’s Got a Hold on Me” is a testimony to her uncensored power.

swiggle1 dot pattern2
YouTube/Etta James Source: YouTube/Etta James

This particular performance, shared on YouTube, has over five million views and 89,000 likes.

swiggle1 dot pattern2
YouTube/Etta James Source: YouTube/Etta James

Right off the bat, James launches into soulful notes that are brutally honest and will undoubtedly leave you with chills.

swiggle1 dot pattern2
YouTube/Etta James Source: YouTube/Etta James

You may recognize this introduction as it’s experienced somewhat of a revival in a rotation of new pop music and dance songs.

swiggle1 dot pattern2
YouTube/Etta James Source: YouTube/Etta James

Her vocals are so powerful, producers have been moved to sample it.

swiggle1 dot pattern2
YouTube/Etta James Source: YouTube/Etta James

“Oh sometimes I get a good feeling yeah
I get a feeling that I never, never had before
And I got to tell you right now
I believe, I really do believe that.”

However, James’ enchanting edge didn’t just materialize, there was indeed a darkness that seemed to occupy her.

swiggle1 dot pattern2
YouTube/Etta James Source: YouTube/Etta James

And while her diva personality and rock-and-roll demeanor captivated the hearts of many, she battled herself internally.

swiggle1 dot pattern2
YouTube/Etta James Source: YouTube/Etta James

David Ritz, author of one of James’ biographies, went on to say this:

“It isn’t like she sings that song. Sometimes, you feel she was going to war with the song.”

Drugs threatened both her career and her sanity, and she faced a point where she had to choose prison or rehabilitation.

But she persevered and only solidified her legacy.

swiggle1 dot pattern2
YouTube/Etta James Source: YouTube/Etta James

In a 1989 interview she shared:

“When I sing for myself, I probably sing for anyone who has any kind of hurt, any kind of bad feelings, good feelings, ups and downs, highs and lows, that kind of thing.”

Get ready for chills in this soulful performance linked below!

Please SHARE this with your friends and family.

Sources: NPR, Culture Sonar, Biography, YouTube/Etta James

Advertisement
Advertisement