I fell in love with her music kind of late. I knew of her, but it was her albums of jazz standards that made me fall in love with her voice. I could play her version of Someone to Watch Over Me all day long. It is my all-time favorite song.
I first saw her in concert at the Hollywood Bowl a couple of years later. She was Ray Charles' opening act and I was in the front row of box seats (my summer intern treat!). I didn't know what an extraordinary performer she was. Wow! I saw her at least half-dozen times in concert after that--the last time was a couple of years ago again at the Hollywood Bowl. She was still and again amazing.
In my novel, Etta James actually plays a pivotal role. When Rachel, the main character, goes to see Etta James in concert she is profoundly changed. She says:
"Etta James is stuffed together like Grandma--a big, squishy capsule--and she's light-skinned like me. She's got the gravel to her voice when she sings the loud parts (and the parts that are kind of nasty too). She also has that soft spot in her voice when she sings songs that are about being lonely and sad.
The last song, which is an encore, is a long, slow song. I clap and clap. And stand and clap. I want to say this the way Grandma would if she agreed: I like me some Etta James! It feels like it's the only way to say it to make the meaning good."
I should have written: I LOVE me some Etta James. Oh, Etta! You will be missed!