Born Jamesetta Hawkins and known affectionately as Miss Peaches, the ever-adored badass beauty Etta James transitioned this morning at the age of 73, less than a week shy of her 74th birthday.
I realize there’s a contingency of folk who just recently got put on to the magic that was Miss Peaches via Beyonce’s tortured cinematic portrayal, but so many more of us have long been spinning our parent’s vinyl. We swooned to “I Just Want To Make Love To You.” Even if we didn’t completely understand what the lyrics meant we knew she meant every word of it and for that reason it stuck to our pulsating hearts like hot wax on cold flesh. And of course we all knew “At Last” if not from our own stereos we surely heard it at someone’s wedding. Along with the “Soul Train” line, “At Last” was required protocol by soulful ciphers from Detroit to Dorchester at all wedding receptions.
Her manager of more than 30 years, Lupe DeLeon, had told CNN in admiration: “Etta James is unmanageable, and I’m the closest thing she’s ever had to a manager.”
If Patti LaBelle always carries hot sauce in her bag, I believe Etta James had a razor and a bottle of E&J. She was gangster. About Beyonce singing “At Last” at President Obama’s inauguration she once said:
“I can’t stand Beyonce. She had no business up there singing my song that I’ve been singing forever.”
She later told the New York Daily News she was joking. Yeah right! We know she was dead serious.
After many bouts with her weight and heroin, she seemed to catch the wind beneath her wings and was on tour quite often this past decade. One reviewer noted: “Even while sitting down, James gave it her all on stage, singing as though possessed, caressing every note like a long-lost love.”
Not one to let anything slide, Miss Peaches responded to critics who noticed her seated sauciness in a quote that I love:
“They said that Etta James is still vulgar. I said, ‘Oh, how dare ’em say I’m still real vulgar! I’m vulgar because I dance in the chair?’ What would they want me to do? Want me to just be still or something like that?’ I gotta do something.”
And that she did. She gave us her sweat, her broken and re-enlivened heart and she gave us authenticity and non-compromise and for that I’m so grateful. Rest in sweet peace Peaces!