ETTA JAMES has seen it all. In a life lived to the fullest, she has experienced all the ups and downs, the highs and lows, the joy, the pain, and then, rejuvenation, reinvention, and renewal. Perhaps unlike any one of the dozens of albums she has recorded during a distinguished career that spans five decades, All The Way (2006) could be said to capture – if just one record could possibly do so – a miniature kaleidoscope of the emotions, feelings, expressions, and sentiments that this remarkable woman has experienced.
With a range of material that would render most singers helpless, the truly legendary Etta James – a three-time Grammy-winner, NARAS Lifetime Achievement, Rhythm & Blues Foundation Pioneer awardee, and W.C. Handy Blues Foundation honoree, who rightfully has her own star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame – shows that when it comes to music that speaks to the soul, she is virtually peerless. After all, who else could tackle Leonard Bernstein’s classic “Somewhere” in the space of one record and then give “Holding Back The Years” the kind of world-weary workout that makes you say, “Simply who?” in a reference to the song’s originator, Simply Red. It takes a whole lotta raw talent to take on such a feat, but then this is Etta James, who recently underwent surgery that resulted in her shedding some 200 pounds. “Etta 2006” is, in the words of one of her many classic albums, “betta than evah,” with a new spring in her step, a new lease on life, and of course a CD that showcases her enduring talent.
All The Way is, Etta proclaims, an album that allows her “to sing the songs that people need to hear” and in looking back at her illustrious career, that’s been a constant theme for five decades from 1955 after she was first discovered by Johnny Otis while still a teenager. It was the bandleader and talent scout who produced that first hit, the saucy “Dance With Me Henry,” which immediately topped R&B charts nationwide. Her tenure with Chess Records began in 1960 and would continue for 16 incredible years with a string of landmark hits including her signature tune, “At Last,” along with “All I Could Do Was Cry,” “My Dearest Darling,” “Trust In Me,” “Something’s Got A Hold On Me,” “Tell Mama,” “Fool That I Am,” and “Don’t Cry Baby.” Together they comprised a run of charting records that ranked Etta third, just behind Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick, as the most prolific female R&B vocalist of her era. Even with a prolific catalog of great albums to her credit, it’s only been in the last decade or so that Etta has finally received the industry recognition long due her. Inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 1993, Etta received her first Grammy in 1995 (after nine prior nominations) for her Private Music debut album, Mystery Lady: The Songs Of Billie Holiday, a collection that introduced her extraordinary vocal prowess to a new generation of fans. In 2003, she was honored with another Grammy for “Let’s Roll” as well as receiving a NARAS Lifetime Achievement award from the Recording Academy’s National Trustees, in recognition of her outstanding creative contributions that same year. In 2005, Etta won her third Grammy in the Traditional Blues Album category for Blues to the Bone, an outstanding collection of covers of tunes originated by blues greats such as Robert Johnson, Willie Dixon, Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James, and Lightin’ Hopkins.