A Sad Week in Music – The Death of Etta James and Johnny Otis

20 Jan

Etta James, 73, and Johnny Otis, 90, both passed away this week – Johnny on Tuesday and Etta today – capping off what was a sad week in historical R&B. But while other sources of music news are eulogizing the Matriarch of R&B today – just like they did with the Godfather of the same genre on Tuesday – I want to talk about a time when both musicians were rocking and rolling back in the 1950s. The interconnected histories of each musician make any attempt at commendation unnecessary. Let’s let their talent, influence, and music, shine through music instead.

Etta James didn’t only know Johnny Otis because they were two musicians in the business. She may not have been in the business if it wasn’t for Otis’ keen ear for incredible talent. She also may have never been Etta James. At 14 years old, James formed a doo-wop band called the Creolettes with some friends. Somehow – and stories conflict on how – James met Otis and Otis liked what he heard from James. He changed the name of the band to the Peaches and he changed the name of the lead singer from Jamesetta Hawkins to Etta James. In 1955 she released a song called “Roll With Me, Henry” (“Dance with Me, Henry” was the changed name in fear of censorship). The song was released under the name of “The Wallflower” and it became a huge hit.

In a way it is weird that two musicians with such a close connection died within days of each other, but life is capricious.  Enjoy the music and RIP Etta and Johnny

4 Responses to “A Sad Week in Music – The Death of Etta James and Johnny Otis”

  1. John Phillips January 20, 2012 at 8:12 pm #

    Couldn’t say it better than this, so I linked to this in my post. Not a good week is an understatement.

    • Matthew Coleman January 20, 2012 at 8:21 pm #

      Thanks John. Yes, terribly sad. Just pained me to hear about both.


  1. Remembering Etta James and Johnny Otis « Is It Possible To See It All - January 20, 2012

    […] Otis have a distinct musical relationship.  I cannot add to what Matthew Coleman has outlined at The Music Court as he has explained their relationship.  For both to pass away in the same week is very […]


    […] A Sad Week in Music – The Death of Etta James and Johnny Otis (musiccourt.wordpress.com) […]

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