by George Spink
The music world is mourning the passing of Etta James, who died today in Riverside, CA at the age of 73. In her later years, thanks to the use of her 1961 recording of At Last in the 1988 film Rain Man, Etta James enjoyed the success that had eluded her in her earlier years.
At Last - Etta James
Because I have been collecting big band records all of my life, I knew that At Last had been written by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon in 1941 for Glenn Miller and His Orchestra. You can hear a brief refrain of the song in Miller's 1941 film "Sun Valley Serenade" and an extended version of it in the opening sequence of the band's 1942 film, "Orchestra Wives." The vocals are performed by Ray Eberle and Pat Friday, whose voice is dubbed for Lynn Bari's in the film. "At Last" became one of the biggest hits for Glenn Miller and His Orchestra and to this day is regarded as one of Miller's greatest numbers.
At Last by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra
with Ray Eberle and Pat Friday (dubbing for Lynn Bari) on vocals.
Following the 1988 release of Rain Man, Etta James' 1961 recording of At Last took on a life all of its own. Etta sang it beautifully, becoming one of the biggest hits of 1988 and of the entire decade that followed. You heard Etta James' recording in many other movies and on TV shows, such as Melrose Place, throughout the 1990's. Etta made the song her own.
By 1990, I was living in Los Angeles. I attended a party in the Rancho Park neighborhood near Century City in 1992 hosted by a woman who had an extensive collection of CD's and a great sound system. I gave her a CD of Miller's music entitled Glenn Miller in Hollywood, which not only contained Miller's extended version of At Last but his other songs from his two films. She lived only three blocks from 20th Century Fox Studios. She was thrilled that this music had been recorded so close to her home!
At my suggestion, the first song she played was At Last. She loved it! Then she played Etta James' version. She had no idea the song had been written almost 50 years earlier for Miller and his Orchestra. Her party guests asked us about the Miller version, unaware that this was a song from another era.
Etta James touched all of us by her fondness for At Last. It is fortunate that the last two decades of her life brought her more success than she had ever known before.
We shall miss you, Etta. Rest in peace! You are in good company!
Moderator - The Palomar
Los Angeles, California