Weeks before Beyonce drops it low during the Super Bowl’s halftime show she has presidential matters to tend to. The avid Obama supporter will return to the president’s second inauguration to perform on stage at the West Front of the U.S. Capitol. During the Neighborhood Inaugural Ball at the 2009 inauguration Bey sang Etta James‘ “At Last” while the president and First Lady slow danced. Topping “At Last” will be no easy task. Read more…
“Diplo and an Orthadox Jew walk into a studio” sounds more like the opening line of an off-color joke than a surpisingly fruitful musical pairing.
While most people were likely introduced to British vocalist Alex Clare through a commercial for Internet Explorer 9 wherein his addictive single “Too Close” captivated unprepared television viewers’ eardrums, they may not have been aware that he actively studies the Talmud, has indeed collaborated with Major Lazer, or that he even used to date the late Amy Winehouse. Now happily married and tight-lipped on the latter, the electro-soul singer sat down with VH1 Tuner this week to candidly discuss the opportunity that saved his career, and the whirlwind that has been his last few months.
“I was stuck in a bit of a career rut,” remarked Clare on the period before radio would touch “Too Close,” a Mike Spencer-produced song that has since charted internationally and hit #7 on Billboard’s Hot 100 domestically. “Without [the IE9 commercial], I definitely wouldn’t be sitting here right now… No one was really listening to my music, and now people are.” It’s been quite the 180. When his debut LP The Lateness Of The Hour dropped in the UK in July of 2011, incorporating electronic elements into soul music was more rare than it is now, but Clare has since surrendered to the fact that, as we approach 2013, “everyone’s doing it.”
After taking five weeks off to observe Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot in Israel, celebrating Hanukkah while on the road is “easy” for the gritty-voiced singer who performed at Irving Plaza on Tuesday night. “Wherever you go, you just light your menorah, sing some songs, eat some donuts – happy days.” But seeing an Israeli flag lifted in the show’s crowd on that fourth day of the Festival of Lights was a first for Clare, who could only really make sense of the incident with a geographical explanation: “I guess it’s New York and there’s a lot of us here.” Despite the venue’s sound being quite a bit off, Clare’s live show showcased his versatile voice well, and he was able to execute a wide variety of covers including Prince’s “When Doves Cry,” Etta James‘ “Damn Your Eyes,” and Gyptian’s “Hold Yuh” – a version of which he was forced to re-write since an actual cover of the dancehall song would be both “inaudible and slightly obscene.”
After an already action-packed weekend of Superlounge performances, empowerment panels, and headline-grabbing mainstage sets, Essence Music Festival came to a close last night in New Orleans. Like many other festivals, Essence is notorious for headlining sets extending late into the early morning of the next day, but when the artists performing are esteemed members of music’s nobility, you stay put!
Kirk Franklin kicked off the festival’s third and final night, handing the mic off to VH1 star Fantasia before soulful crooner Anthony Hamilton and his phenomenal back-up vocalists transformed the Mercedes Benz Superdome into a refreshing gospel experience. The big-ticket performers – Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin and Queen of Funk Chaka Khan – would soon follow.
As the first woman inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, Aretha Franklin has free reign to pretty much do whatever she wants on stage, and did just that. She’d open her mouth, and magic would pour out; graciously bestowing gifts like “(Your Love has Lifted me) Higher and Higher,” “Natural Woman,” “Think,” and “Something He Can Feel,” the 18-time Grammy winner who sang at President Obama’s inauguration was met with a respectful, hyper-attentive audience that contrasted the normal bustling-in-and-out-of-their-seats EMF crowd. Despite the fact that she would at times meander into telling stories and jokes, appropriating an audience-member’s fedora, complaining about the venue’s sound, and acknowledging friends of hers that were in the crowd by asking them to stand, Franklin’s lengthy 90-minute set was any music fan’s dream even that late in the evening.
While Franklin changed her wardrobe from an orange gown to a green and gold frock mid-performance, a presentation was held in her honor, giving Queen of Soul a key to the city of New Orleans by its mayor Mitch Landrieu, a state award by Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, and the Essence Power Award from Essence Communications President, Michelle Ebanks. Representing “entertainment, empowerment and elegance,” Franklin was clearly the ideal choice for this year’s awards, and once the Queen of Soul returned to the EMF stage, she performed crowd favorite “Chain of Fools,” sang from what she called “the book of Simon and Garfunkel,” performing a cover of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and even found time to pay tribute to the late and legendary Whitney Houston. “She was beautiful, she was warm, she was real,” recounted Franklin of her beloved “Christian sister” as she took to the piano to execute a rendition of Houston’s heart-wrenching “I Will Always Love You.”
B.o.B. continues to think outside the box with his sophomore album, Strange Clouds. Elements of various musical genres —from hip-hop to jazz to country— can be heard throughout. The singer, songwriter, rapper and producer skyrocketed to success with his two monster smashes “Nothin’ On You” and “Airplanes”, both crossover tracks that featured somewhat unlikely artists singing the hook (Bruno Mars and Hayley Williams, respectively). Based on how commercially successful each of these songs were, it seems as if B.o.B. is eager to try replicate their success, as he’s recruited a number of collaborators for tracks on his new album. Whether they are household names like Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift, or newcomers like Lauriana Mae, the variety of artists on the album is quite impressive. We ranked each of the songs that feature other artists, and it’s not what you’d expect.
9. “Strange Clouds” feat. Lil Wayne – We don’t know what’s up with Weezy, but his flow hasn’t quite been the same since he got outta the joint. A song about partying, drinking and smoking all night has to have an element to it that makes the listener want to partake in the fun. We don’t know if it’s believable here.
8. “Out Of My Mind” feat. Nicki Minaj: We’re getting an outer space vibe on this one. And is it just us or did B.O.B. slightly sound like Ludacris? Either way, Nicki does what she does best on this track. She plays with different animated voices, she raps, she sings. Repeat. It’s fine, but it’s nothing transcendent.
M.I.A. Will Have To Shell Out The Big Bucks To Cover Any FCC Fines That Might Arise From Her Bird
M.I.A.‘s contract with NBC states that she’ll have to shell out to cover any fines that might be enforced by the FCC following her Super Bowl performance. While the world waits with baited breath to see if the most famous finger in the consumerist world will be reprimanded by the FCC, we’re guessing M.I.A is waiting just as anxiously to see what happens, especially since Janet Jackson‘s nip-slip cost CBS a cool $550,000. [Spin]
Alicia Keys And Bonnie Raitt Will Honor Etta James At The Grammys
Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt will duet in honor of Etta James at the Grammys, and they’ve got a lot to live up to after Christina Aguilera‘s stirring rendition of “At Last” at the late legend’s funeral. [Idolator]
At the legendary Etta James‘ funeral, Christina Aguilera belted out a spine tingling rendition of “At Last,” which has been part of her live repertoire for a decade. It’s clear how much Aguilera reveres James, and her performance was perfect, both in the range of Christina’s vocal and the touching nature of her Etta James inspired career. Despite the wonderful performance, audiences have chosen instead to focus on a mystery liquid* dripping down Christina’s legs as she sung. We think that whatever it was, it couldn’t have been a comfortable moment for Christina, and that she held her own like the consummate performer that she is, not missing a beat and delivering an emotion filled tribute to her idol.
Paying tribute to the late Etta James live in concert at New York’s Radio City Music Hall this weekend, Kelly Clarkson gave a beautiful performance of “I’d Rather Go Blind.” It was a poignant enough moment in the face of James’ tragic passing, but also given that 10 years ago Kelly sang “At Last,” for her first ever appearance on American Idol, which she went on to win, the performance was a rather weighty one. While most of the videos we tracked down of the performance were rather shaky (see above, which was the least shaky but unfortunately from a distance), the poor visual was negligible in light of Kelly’s spine tingling vocal. Even on fan-filmed, amateur film, there’s no mistaking the distinct power of Kelly’s voice as she sings the words of the great Etta James.
With music icons taking to Twitter today to share their condolences for the passing of the legendary Etta James, Beyoncé posted a personal message of admiration on her website. Of the late Etta James, Beyoncé wrote the following:
“This is a huge loss. Etta James was one of the greatest vocalists of our time. I am so fortunate to have met such a queen. Her musical contributions will last a lifetime. Playing Etta James taught me so much about myself, and singing her music inspired me to be a stronger artist. When she effortlessly opened her mouth, you could hear her pain and triumph. Her deeply emotional way of delivering a song told her story with no filter. She was fearless, and had guts. She will be missed.”
The message was accompanied by Bey’s performance of “At Last” for Fashion Rocks 2008, in which her reverence for James is overt and sincere.
Following the tragic death of legendary artist Etta James today, the music world has expressed profound condolences, many coming in the form of heartfelt Tweets. You can see some of them below, a testament to Etta James’ pervasive influence, her inspirational impact on the music world, and the great loss that is felt by her passing.
Sad news to pass along. After a long battle with leukemia, it has been announced that the legendary singer Etta James has died at the age of 73. The storied American blues, soul, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, gospel, and jazz singer’s terminal illness was originally diagnosed with leukemia back in 2010, and finally succumbed to the illness with her husband, Artis Mills, and her sons by her side.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, James began formal vocal training at age five, participating in her local Baptist Church’s choir, and by age 14 she had a number one hit in 1955 with her doo-wop band, Peaches, entitled “The Wallflower (Dance With Me, Henry).” James signed to Argo Records in 1960 under which she released her two most lauded albums, At Last! and The Second Time Around. Her two most highly-regarded songs are “At Last,” released in 1961, and “I’d Rather Go Blind,” released in 1968.
Over her illustrious career, James released 30 albums and 58 singles, despite battling a heroin addiction in the 1960s and ’70s. James won six Grammys and 17 Blues Music Awards, and was ranked by Rolling Stone magazine as #22 on the 100 Greatest Singers Of All Time list and #62 on their 100 Greatest Artists list. James was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1993, the Blues Hall of Fame in 2001, and the Grammy Hall of Fame in both 1999 and 2008.
Her timeless work has been noted as a primary influence by artists like Adele, Kanye West (who sampled her take on “My Funny Valentine” for his song “Addiction”) and Beyoncé, who portrayed James in the 2008 film Cadillac Records. Beyoncé even performed “At Last” during the inauguration ceremony for President Barack Obama in 2009. Even today, her voice is all over pop radio: Her vocals from the song “Something’s Got a Hold on Me” have been sampled by both Avicii (“Levels”) and Flo Rida (“Good Feeling”) for the choruses of their wildly popular songs.
Etta James was truly a music legend, and will be remembered and revered always for her soul shaking vocals and talent as singer, performer and songwriter.
[Photos: Getty Images]