Saturday, January 26, 2008

Beyonce to Portray Etta James

Etta James is a renowned icon of the Rhythm & Blue genre. Before there was Aretha, Dionne, or Chaka, there was Etta James. I am a huge fan and that’s why I was excited to learn that BeyoncĂȘ Knowles of “Dreamgirls” fame would be portraying the legendary singer in the upcoming film entitled “Cadillac Records”.

Set in the 1950’s the story is about Leonard Chess, the founder of the South Side Chicago blues label Chess Records. The period piece follows the rise and fall of Chess Records, which launched the careers of such R&B greats as Muddy Waters, Etta James and Chuck Berry. Chess, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, scoured the South, checking out the various blues scenes and selling records from the back of his Cadillac. Cedric the Entertainer will play Willie Dixon, who wrote most of the hits records and was part of the famous company. One of his most famous songs was "Hoochie Coochie Man".

Oscar winner Adrien Brody has also joined the cast to replace Matt Dillon as Leonard Chess, the founder of Chess Records. Dillon had to drop out of the project due to a scheduling conflict. Jeffrey Wright will portray Muddy Waters in the film set in 1950s Chicago. Also new to the cast are Emmanuelle Chriqui, Columbus Short and Tammy Blanchard. Darnell Martin ("Their Eyes Were Watching God") penned the script and is directing. Sony/BMG's Sofia Sondervan and Andrew Lack are producing.

According to, James landed at Chicago's Chess Records in 1960, signing with their Argo subsidiary. Immediately, her recording career kicked into high gear; not only did a pair of duets with her then-boyfriend (Moonglows lead singer Harvey Fuqua) chart, her own sides (beginning with the tortured ballad "All I Could Do Was Cry") chased each other up the R&B lists as well.

Chess viewed James as a classy ballad singer with pop crossover potential, backing her with lush violin orchestrations for 1961's luscious "At Last" and "Trust in Me." But James' rougher side wasn't forsaken -- the gospel-charged "Something's Got a Hold on Me" in 1962, a kinetic 1963 live LP (Etta James Rocks the House) cut at Nashville's New Era Club, and a blues-soaked 1966 duet with childhood pal Sugar Pie De Santo, "In the Basement," ensured that.

Check out Ms. James with her former label mate Chuck Berry in their rendition of "Rock & Roll Music".


jjbrock said...

I don't know if she is the best choice for that role. I did not like her in dream girls.

pjazzypar said...

Hi jjbrock,

She is probably not the best choice, but I was more interested in Ms. James getting the recognition that she deserves than who actually portrays her. Who would you choose to play the role if it was up to you?

Malcolm said...

No doubt that Beyonce' was chose for commercial reasons rather her suitability. Also, I am not too sure about Jeffrey Wright being cast as Muddy Waters. Still like you said, it's cool that Etta James is getting some well-deserved recognition. "In the Basement" is one of those gems that doesn't get nearly enough airplay.

pjazzypar said...

Hey Malcolm,

Another one you never hear is the answer to Hank Ballard's "Work With Me Annie", "Roll With Me Henry" AKA "The Wallflower". Who would you choose for the role of Etta James and Muddy Waters?

Malcolm said...

Off the top of my head, I can't think of anyone better than Beyonce' in the role of Etta James. As for Muddy Waters, I would choose Wesley Snipes.

jjbrock said...

Hello pjazzypar!I agree with you that Ms. James should get her due. Bey is a wonderful performer but I just can't see her doing Ms. James. I could be wrong. She do look like Ms. James.Maybe that is why she was cast.