Saturday, January 21, 2012

Blues for Etta

The whole world seems to be mourning the death today of the great Etta James. She passed away much too young and after a hard life filled with both pain and ultimate success. I own probably 12 or 15 of her CDs and play them in the studio pretty much every day. I will miss knowing that she's out there still singing.

New Work
Back at the end of December when I was planning to make two pieces for my upcoming solo show, I had an idea based on a quilt from the 1930s that I had seen in a book  You know how two ideas floating around in your mind can sometimes coincide? Well, in this case, the quilt top idea came together with the news I heard about Etta James being very ill and expected to die soon. The result was Blues for Etta, mixed media with encaustic (including record albums, sheet music, tarpaper, copper, aluminum, and tacks) on two panels, 48"H x 60"W.

Blues for Etta, 2012, details in text above (click to enlarge)

I don't know how this looks on your monitor, but on mine it's disappointing because this image doesn't convey the vibrancy of the blues and resonance of the browns. And the reflectiveness of the copper really makes the whole piece shimmer.


Here's a detail showing one of several images from CDs that I incorporated .

Recently I read Etta's bio, Rage to Survive by Etta James with David Ritz and I recommend it - not too well written, but the tale of a great spirit who emerged into the world despite overwhelming odds. Here's a link I found on The Guardian to an obituary of Etta that reprises much of her bio. It tells much of what shaped her hard life and determined approach to life that was revealed so strongly in her singing. She was a tough cookie and that came across vividly. (Read a column by my e-friend Wendy Rodrigue in Gambit, the New Orleans paper, about Etta that includes an image of my Blues for Etta!)

Recommendations of Etta's CDs
I am not a fan of Etta's earlier recordings where she shouts instead of sings, but when she came into her own later in life, she became one of the very best blues singers. Here's a good article about her from The New Yorker with some Youtube links. Unfortunately, the links are mostly from her earlier work. If you want a really good, mellow CD that I think is one of her best, try The Right Time, an excellent recording with Steve Winwood on guitar. For an album that's more jazz than blues with lovely piano accompaniment, try Time After Time, some of her best. And Matriarch of the Blues is also a good one.

Etta on Youtube
There are many videos of Etta on Youtube, some better than others, but here's a good one from Matriarch of the Blues, Bob Dylan's Gotta Serve Somebody.

4 comments:

Deb Townsend said...

Love your piece. A moving and fitting tribute.

Wendy Wolfe Rodrigue said...

I 'discovered' Etta James while on book tour in the late 1990s. My husband and I were killing time at the junk shop down the street from the bookstore, and an old man, barely able to walk, blasted Time After Time. After shouting my request for the title, he showed me the cd. I thought it was the greatest thing I'd ever heard.

I love your piece (both the artwork and the words), Nancy, and look forward to sharing it-

Supria Karmakar said...

Nancy, lovely post, love the work and I would so love to see this in person....I also admire and feel the loss of Etta James, I love the "Matriarch of the Blues" and often play it in my studio too...
Thanks for posting this tribute to Etta...

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