Jane Zhang soul voice: At Last
as we have heard on several occasions, not least the interview of May 23, 2017 in New York at the headquarters of Billboard, Jane likes to remind her fans her fun exploring new music styles and therefore she said many times she doesn’t have a own style, just she sing what she likes and constantly experiments with new ways of making music.
This is the reason that led Jane to sing the R&B/Soul piece of which I speak today: “At Last“.
A bit of history
The song was written in 1941 by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren for the soundtrack of the movie “Orchestra Wives” with George Montgomery and Ann Rutherford in which it was played by Glenn Miller and his orchestra. The piece had great success and reached # 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the following year.
When a song is beautiful any artist would like to sing it and in fact “At Last” was the subject of cover by many singers, so many that it would be too much to list them all. I will just mention a few: Ella Fitzgerald, Celine Dion, Aretha Franklin, Christina Aguilera, Norah Jones, Stevie Wonder, Cyndi Lauper, Beyoncé.
“At Last”, however, it is fundamentally remembered for being the most famous piece by Etta James who recorded it in 1961 increasing strongly its popularity to such an extent that her recording came in the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame in 1999.
Jane Zhang At Last
I recently listened to the versions of all the artists that I’ve listed, and what follows is my personal opinion on these masterful interpretations and then on that of Jane.
Let’s say that in my view the version of Celiné Dion is too melodic, the Ella Fitzgerald rendition is too little R&B, Aretha Franklin a little ‘too Jazz and therefore very different from the original score, and finally, the Christina Aguilera version it’s outstanding but filled with too much virtuosity. If I had to put a cover on the podium I’d definitely chose to Beyoncé: nearly perfect.
Then my ears are captured by Jane and her “At Last”. My judgment? It’s easy to say: clean notes, absolute control of the voice, strong interpretive intensity, extreme precision, no exaggeration on the vocalises, correct basses and unparalleled soul head voice, an enviable breath control and a vocal timbre full of passion that honors the Etta James version that brought this song to success.
Ok, I think it’s clear: the one of Jane Zhang is in my humble (and only apparently partisan) opinion, the best cover ever made in the history of this song and it reveals the strong R&B/Soul side of the Dolphin Princess.
The video that I propose here is the official recording of the song in the 2012 live session named “Listen to Jane Z LIVE“. From this recording was released on June 4, 2012 the first live album of Jane Zhang. Some other time we’ll talk about this album/DVD, and its making of.
Here instead Jane sings the same song in the concert in Shenzhen in November 2012: don’t miss what she can do with her own voice, especially towards the end of the piece.
Noteworthy is also the Jane’s rendition on September 2, 2014 for the opening of the award ceremony of the 38th Montreal International Film Festival in Canada for which Jane was one of the 6 members of the jury presided over by the famous Italian actor and director Sergio Castellitto.
Finally, the original version of Etta James could not be missing, which always has its charm. Following a brief biography of the famous Californian singer.
Etta James, whose real name is Jamesetta Hawkins, was born on January 25, 1938 in Los Angeles by African-American mother and white father, an immigrant.
Grown up with several foster parents, also due to the unregulated life of her mother, at the age of five she began studying singing thanks to James Earle Hines, music director of the choir Echoes of Eden, to the church of San Paolo Battista, south of Los Angeles.
In 1950 the foster mother, Mama Lu, dies, and Jamesetta given to the biological mother at the Fillmore District, in San Francisco.
Within a couple of years the girl forms a girlband, the Creolettes, composed of mulatto teenagers. Etta decides to falsify her mother’s signature when she is offered a contract to record the first single with the “Creolettes”, as being a minor she would have had to have permission from her mother who was in prison.
Thanks to the meeting with the musician Johnny Otis, the Creolettes change name, becoming the Peaches, while Jamesetta becomes Etta James.
In the early months of 1955 the young, just seventeen, recorded “Dance with me, Henry” which reached the first place in the Hot Rhythm & Blues Tracks ranking, and so the Peaches group got the chance to open the Little Richard concerts on the occasion of his tour in the United States.
At this time there are no protections for artists so she and her two colleagues will see literally stealing many songs by a young white singer Georgia Gibbs.
Etta is thus forced to experience moments of great suffering at an early age; he seeks refuge in drugs and alcohol, sees violent and authoritarian men.
Luck begins to turn on her side when she finds herself in New York to share the stage of a TV show with her great source of inspiration: Billie Holiday. It’s in this show that she meets Leonard Chess and joins his record company, Chess Records.
Her debut album, entitled “At last!”, was released in 1960, and is appreciated for its range from jazz to blues, with echoes of rhythm and blues and doo-wop.
The album includes, among other things, “I just want to make love with you”, which will become a classic, but also “A kind of Sunday love”.
In 1961 Etta James records what will become her iconic song, “At last”, which comes in second place in the rhythm and blues charts and in the top 50 of the Billboard Hot 100. Although the song does not achieve the expected success, it will become – in turn – a classic known throughout the world.
Etta releases, later, “Trust in me”, before returning to the recording studio for her second studio album, “The second time around”, which goes in the same direction – musically speaking – of the first album, following pop tracks and jazz.
The career of Etta James knows the boom in the sixties, and then slowly decline in the following decade.
In the early ’70, Etta is facing one of the most difficult periods of her life, the drug addiction rehabilitation program, a forced choice to avoid prison, which will lead her to stay in a psychiatric hospital for 17 months.
Her story is in the 2008 movie “Cadillac Records” in which the role of Etta is assigned to Beyoncé.
At Last (lyrics)
My love has come along
My lonely days are over
And life is like a song
Oh yeah yeah
The skies above are blue
My heart was wrapped up in clover
The night I looked at you
I found a dream, that I could speak to
A dream that I can call my own
I found a thrill to press my cheek to
A thrill that I have never known
Oh yeah yeah
You smiled, you smiled
Oh and then the spell was cast
And here we are in heaven
for you are mine…
Copyright for gallery images: Show City Time Production.