Etta James was perhaps the most defiant of them all.

This is how I feel every time I hear “Trust In Me.” To this day, it takes me to a place of near speechlessness. We’ve all felt the sort of vulnerability displayed in this particular composition. But where I, and perhaps you, too, seem to differ is in how we express these emotions. It’s a tender moment, understandably weak, and yet Etta presents it through an inexplicable rebelliousness. With time, that voice begins to grow stronger where many, if not most would simply fail. It is the perfect contradiction.

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It is through song that we first learned Etta. Because in knowing her voice, we, too, know her soul. To understand her music is to understand her life. It went many different places, eschewing the boundaries of jazz and rock music, all of which were lived boldly and unapologetically. Her life was far from golden. But those demons that many speak of are what made her human. It made her, as the songstress Ms. Scott once spoke, “beautifully human.” And through this, we connected. Her voice was a medium through which we could feel. Etta James gave melody to our emotions.

True emotion has neither generational limitations nor an expiration date. That is why I, at the very same age as my grandmother nearly 50 years before me, can understand the beauty of her most recognizable recording, “At Last.” If there is any way to capture such an abstract emotion, I would say that this is what love sounds like. I can expound endlessly upon the virtues of one of America’s most significant compositions, but for that very same reason, I know that I don’t have to. Because of course, this is something that you already know. It is why we collectively mourn. We knew Ella and this was her song.

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Today, you will read the words of many; listen as the voices talk about her legacy and her not so distant past. But to be completely honest, I just want to hear the music. I honestly believe that she lives on through her work–rebuffing Death’s gentle call. It’s her most defiant performance yet. And I apologize for such a trite cliché. Moments such as this often birth a certain overindulgent sentimentality, but I write this in absolute earnest. Etta James lived her music and her music is where she can now be found. This is the personification of art imitating life. Despite what many will say, Etta James is no more than listen away.

Written By: Paul Pennington

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