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No betta Etta 

Beyonc sang "Survivor," but she'd have a tough time personifying Ms. James

click to enlarge She may not be an angel, but Etta James sure can sing like - one.
  • She may not be an angel, but Etta James sure can sing like one.

You've heard the song before and more than once, probably a thousand times. The smooth voice, familiar and soulful, accompanied by sweeping violins that engulf a room with romance and hope.

It was probably at a wedding reception, with the DJ transitioning out of such timeless stand-bys as "Cotton-Eyed Joe" and "The Electric Slide." This song is different, a true classic. Suddenly, with the help of some liquid courage, you get up to ask that person you've been eyeing all night to dance.

That's the effect Etta James' signature song, "At Last," can have on a crowd. Luckily for Colorado Springs residents, you don't have to regift the Crock-Pot you received for Christmas and put on that snazzy, sleeveless tuxedo T-shirt to hear it again. Instead, you can see and hear Etta James live at the Pikes Peak Center.

The Grammy-winning, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is probably now required by U.S. law to sing "At Last" every day, even in the shower, but there's more to this blues legend's life than her 1961 hit. Not only is hers the voice behind "I Just Wanna Make Love to You," "Tell Mama" and "A Sunday Kind of Love," but Etta's life has seen more ups and downs than a roller coaster, enough to fill a movie about roller coasters.

Not coincidentally, an Etta biopic is in the works, with Beyonc Knowles set to tackle the lead role. While the former Destiny's Child member is certainly bootylicious, could Beyonc handle a main character as complex and diverse as Etta, an artist who has recorded music over five decades? In Cadillac Records, will she come off as more John C. Reilly (Dewey Cox) or Jamie Foxx (Ray Charles)?

The three Etta James factoids below show that any actress will be stretched to the max in trying to portray the music legend.

The image. Beyonc maintains a fairly wholesome image. Etta James has admitted in interviews that she "ain't been no angel" and had a long battle with heroin addiction that affected her career and personal life. That kind of pain runs through her music and is part of what makes her so unique. Does Beyonc whose finest performance to date has been as '70s nightclub singer/secret agent Foxxy Cleopatra in Austin Powers: Goldmember have the chops to get down and dirty as a drug addict?

The weight. Etta's weight has fluctuated greatly and at one time reached 400 pounds. In 2003, she underwent gastric bypass surgery and lost 200. Looking like your character, like Angela Bassett portraying Tina Turner in What's Love Got to Do With It?, is pivotal to a role. How will Beyonc handle looking like early Etta? Will she put on a few pounds, like Rene Zellweger did for Bridget Jones? Let the Beyonc-Jay-Z pregnancy rumors start here!

The voice. One of the most famous voices of the 20th century, one that could deliver "Old McDonald" and still earn a standing ovation vs. one of the three women who sang "Survivor." Even Jamie Foxx, an accomplished musician, wasn't crazy enough to sing Ray Charles' hits. No offense, Beyonc, but no one can sing like Etta James.

scene@csindy.com


Etta James
Pikes Peak Center, 190 S. Cascade Ave.
Friday, March 28, 7 p.m.
Tickets: $42-$52; visit ticketswest.com or call 520-SHOW (7469).
  • You've heard the song before and more than once, probably a thousand times.

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