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Tell Etta

"And life is like a song," sings Etta James on "At Last." It's one of her most enduring tracks, but it's this line that lingers longer than the "at lasts" she belts out. That's because her life has been like every one of her songs, which is to say riddled with pain, supported by hope (almost always in the form of love), and built upon malady after malady, from heroin addiction to alcohol to money and weight problems, and, of course, trouble with men. Men help to define Etta James, in the way they fill her with yearning, the way they hurt her, and the way she refuses to take shit from any one of them.

Etta James

For six decades, Jamesette Hawkins (as she was born) has given the world album after album of defiance, the soaring voice of a woman who knows the pain of living and yet won't let it keep her down. Every woman singing anything remotely blues-like today must credit her as an influence, from Bonnie Raitt to that blond upstart Joss Stone. That's because James understands the power and sexuality of a woman's voice. When she growls, "I just want to make love to you," you believe every ounce of her being, right down to her weary bones, wants nothing more than to do just that.

Etta James

Fri, July 15
$85 (balcony);
$100 (orchestra)

Carver Cultural Center
226 N. Hackberry
You'll often hear how James, with her blend of gospel, R&B, and blues, long ago established a place for herself in rock history alongside Ray Charles, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and the like. There's something, though, that smacks of racism, because it implies her only contemporaries were black, which wasn't the case. Etta James is not a black singer of the blues. She's not black, really, even though she is. She's one of a kind, and everyone else can only move parallel if anywhere near her at all.

By Cole Haddon