There is something about the loss of someone, anyone, that makes us think back upon the times we enjoyed with that person. I remember when my mother died how her house became this place for people who had known her to come by.  At first it was just to express their condolences but if they stayed a while it inevitably turned into stories about their experiences with her.  It became a mixture of tears and laughs as I learned many things about her that I had not known and I shared some of the things I knew. As the night got later it became a catharsis for my grief.  Though it did not lessen the loss, it got me through the grief and continues to get me through it each time the grief comes back.

I never met Etta James; I never even got the opportunity to hear her perform live.  My only relationship with her with through her music, but a powerful relationship it was. Most remembrances of her talk about her mega hits “At Last” and “Sunday Kind of Love’,” which are actually only about one side of her. Her music was always about strength and perseverance, sometimes a sweet strength as in “At Last” but that strength could be in turn challenging, weary, angry, honest, forthright and patient. Whether it was the early R&B hits on labels like Chess or the later covers of 70’s and 80’s rock, the gospel songs or the blues songs, the strength was always there. For me her music was always a reminder to keep on pushing through the bad times, be honest with yourself and persevere because that’s all we can do to have meaning in our lives.

All of that is captured in her performance of “I’d Rather Go Blind” and my favorite is the cut from her album “Deep in the Night.” This is one of the most powerful performances I’ve ever heard on record.  You think she almost completely gets away from the melody (though she does not), and then obliterates the bar measure distinctions that are there in the written music. All that is left is the story of her pain and by implication how she is going to get through it.  She expresses her pain until language and words fail her. We’ve all been there. Listen and enjoy.

Blind Girl compressed

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