What the Hell You Know About the Blues
By Jackson Harlem
Sony’s upcoming film, "Cadillac Records," in which Beyoncé Knowles-Carter plays Etta James, is superb. The blues and soul legend Etta James was born as Jamesette Hawkins in Los Angeles in 1938. Her signature hit, the soulful ballad "At Last", set a new tone for blues, soul, and R&B music in America.
The movie, due in theaters Dec. 5, stars Jeffery Wright, Gabrielle Union, Adrien Brody, Columbus Short, Cedric the Entertainer, Emmanuelle Chriqui, and Eamon Walker. The film chronicles the 1950s Chicago music scene and its backstage scandals, recalling both "Dreamgirls" and Taylor Hackford's Oscar-winning "Ray."
To most people’s surprise, the movie isn’t just about Etta James' career; The film chronicles the uprising career of the various artists on Cadillac Records, including Howling Wolf, Muddy Waters [my favorite], Lil’ Walter, and Chuck Berry. The film is layered with so many stories, element and textures, I was impressed. And I can't forget all of the wonderful music sewn into the fabric of the artists' lives.
As an avid thespian, I thought the film is awesome. In addition to being a huge Columbus Short fan, I’m a huge Mos Def fan, who plays Chuck Berry in the film. And I think his role in the movie is awesome. Mos Def always melts his own persona into the characters so that he’s transparent.
[DO check out Short in his new movie Quarantine.]
Now for Beyoncé…I admit, I was a tad bit skeptical because of what this movie demanded of her. But she delivered; I didn’t see Beyoncé, nor did I see Sasha Fierce. I saw a young and sultry James. If you’ve studied her, you’ll understand the dynamics of her bold and aggresive nature. She had to be that way. Her life demanded it of her.
Furthermore, Beyoncé’s weight gain isn’t what grabbed me the most; her acting did. True, Beyonce couldn’t match the velvety huskiness of James’ voice, [James’ voice is a lovely mix between a muted trumpet and a baritone] because technically, her voice is a drastically different classification (i.e. soprano, tenor, etc). But, in terms of character depth, I was highly impressed with the Beyonce's and the entire casts' performance! Especially Jeffery Wright.
Along with Sarah Vaughan, Etta James is near and dear to my musical heart. You may not personally relate to knowing a drug addict, but the scenes where Beyonce almost overdoses and when Brody and Wright pick Beyoncé up off of the bathroom floor, I got emotional.
Cadillac Records comes to theatres DEC 5.