"At Last" is a 1941 song written by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren for the musical film Orchestra Wives, starring George Montgomery and Ann Rutherford. It was performed in the film and on record by Glenn Miller and his orchestra, with vocals by Ray Eberle and Pat Friday. Unreleased recordings of the song, however, had been made in 1941 by Glenn Miller for possible inclusion in the film Sun Valley Serenade. An orchestral version of the song without lyrics first appeared in that movie in 1941. A new version was recorded by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra in Chicago on May 20, 1942, and released by RCA Victor Records as a 78 single, catalogue number 27934-B, backed with the A side "(I've Got a Gal In) Kalamazoo". The song reached number 9 on the Billboard pop charts in 1942, staying on the charts for 9 weeks, and later became a standard. In 1960, it was covered by blues singer Etta James in an arrangement by Riley Hampton that improvised on Warren's melody. James' version was the title track in the same-named album At Last! and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.
- 1 Original and cover versions
- 2 Cultural references
- 3 Charts
- 4 Certifications
- 5 Celine Dion version
- 6 Beyoncé Knowles version
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Original and cover versions
Former Glenn Miller Orchestra trumpeter Ray Anthony had the highest charting recording of the song in the U.S. on the pop charts in 1952, peaking at no. 2 on the Billboard pop singles chart and no. 20 on the Cashbox chart. Also Nat King Cole recorded the song for his 1957 romantic album Love Is the Thing.
The song became Etta James' signature song and was the third in a string of successful songs from her Chess Records debut album At Last!. In April 1961, it became her second number 2 R&B hit and crossed over to pop radio, reaching number 47 on the Billboard Hot 100. Despite its modest pop chart standing, the song is well-known and is still played regularly on oldies radio stations. The James version reached the top 40 in Cashbox and Music Vendor.
In the decades since its release it has been covered by many artists. The Etta James version, with its passionate vocal and sweeping orchestration, is often chosen for weddings and wedding receptions.
An unusual "cover" was released under the title: "Theme From 'The Last Time I Saw Archie'" (from the movie starring Robert Mitchum). Percy Faith charted the medley of "At Last" and "Angel Face", which reached #91 in 1961 in the US Music Vendor Top 100.
The Etta James recording appears on the soundtracks of such films as Rain Man, Pleasantville, and American Pie, and such television series as Northern Exposure, The Simpsons, and Chuck. It has also been used in television commercials for such products as Jaguar automobiles, Hoover vacuum cleaners, and State Farm insurance.
At the first of many inaugural balls for President Barack Obama on January 20, 2009, Beyoncé Knowles performed "At Last" live for the president's and first lady's first dance, reprising her Grammy-winning performance of the song in the 2008 film Cadillac Records. Two weeks later, Etta James told an audience at a concert in Seattle that she was offended that Beyoncé performed "my song" for the president, despite the fact that it was written twenty years before she recorded it.
Celine Dion version
"At Last" was covered by Celine Dion and included on her sixth English-language album A New Day Has Come (2002). Her version was produced by Humberto Gatica and Guy Roche, and released as a promotional single in the United States on December 9, 2002. However, there was no music video made for the song. It was also the last single released from the album. "At Last" peaked at number 16 on the Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks. A live version of this song was included on the A New Day... Live in Las Vegas album in 2004, as Dion performed it for four years during her A New Day... show in Las Vegas. She also performed the song at "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in 2002, at the "Fiorello Show" in 2002 in Italy along with "A New Day Has Come", "My Heart Will Go On" and "Grande, Grande, Grande" sung with Fiorello, at the Domenica in TV program in Italy along with "A New Day Has Come", at the A New Day Has Come CBS TV special at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles in 2002 along with "A New Day Has Come", "Have You Ever Been In Love", "Goodbye's (The Saddest Word)", "When the Wrong One Loves You Right" sung with the Destiny's Child, "My Heart Will Go On", "Beauty and the Beast" sung with Brian McKnight, "Because You Loved Me" and "Nature Boy".
Background and composition
While commenting about the song, Dion revealed, "I can see beginning my show and looking into everyone's eyes and singing this song. This is my hello."
The version of the song, written by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren, was produced by Humberto Gatica and Guy Roche and it is featured on Dion's sixth English-language album A New Day Has Come (2002). The song is a soul soliloquy where Dion, accompanied by the delicate chords of a violin, sings about the joy of love found "at last".
The song was critically acclaimed. Frédéric Garat of RFI wrote that the song is "a lovely exercise which reveals the layer of blues hiding underneath the slightly prim and proper petticoats of the 'international star'." Barnes & Noble's Editorial review commented, "Her solid rendition of Etta James's 'At Last' should satisfy her lovelorn fans." Sal Cinquemani of Slant Magazine called it "a soulful rendition." Chuck Taylor of Billboard said that this "standard" serves her grown-up fans. However, Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone commented that "she doesn't have the pipes for material defined by Etta James." Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly agreed, calling it a "pallid cover."
Beyoncé Knowles version
"At Last" was also covered by Beyoncé Knowles and included on the soundtrack album of the film, Cadillac Records. It was released on the soundtrack album on December 2, 2008 through Columbia Records. In the film, Knowles portrays Etta James. Beyoncé won critical acclaim for portraying James in "Cadillac Records," and has performed "At Last" several times since the movie was released, including in front of James. She told MTV News: "[Etta James is] one of my heroes, and I always loved her voice, but now knowing what she's been through, she's one of my heroes. I'm not sure if she thought [I would be good] as her. I'm very, very nervous. [...] I actually spoke with her and she told me, 'I loved you from the first time you sung.'" Knowles later told Billboard: "I realized that Etta James was so unapologetic, bold and strong that playing her was a big risk for me. It gave me the confidence and the push to challenge myself a little more with my music."
John Kehe of The Christian Science Monitor wrote: "No one can channel Etta – she's a singular talent – but Beyoncé does it her own way and conjurs enough emotion and grit to make it work in the context of the movie." A. O. Scott of The New York Times added that Knowles' interpretation of "At Last" was "downright revelatory" and described Knowles as "a real soul diva of the old school." A writer of Entertainment Weekly wrote that "when she belts out 'At Last,' it all makes sense."
By contrast, Thom Jurek of Allmusic wrote that on "At Last", "Knowles possesses little of the legendary singer's power or edgy finesse. She's entirely too polished and restrained. Her phrasing doesn't come close in terms of inventiveness or inspiration, and her emotional conviction is lacking, to say the least." This was somehow echoed by Robert Fontenot of About.com who thought that Knowles "sings Etta like a diva -- technically proficient, but overemoted and lacking every bit of Etta's sly subtext and hard-won earthiness. Beyoncé knows how to sing the blues, in other words; she just doesn't know how to have them." Margeaux Watson of Entertainment Weekly also gave a mixed review for the song, writing, "The only major drawback to her performance is that she lacks the pained vocal chops to convincingly pull off James' songs or make them her own... Each time she covers classics like 'At Last' and 'Trust In Me,' you hear Beyonce, not Etta." Knowles' version of "At Last" won the Grammy Award for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance at the 52nd Grammy Awards. On The Village Voice ' 2008 year-end Pazz & Jop singles list, Knowles' version of "At Last" was ranked at number 443.
"At Last" was performed live for the first time by Knowles during the 2008 Fashion Rocks on September 5, 2008 as a tribute to James. She had a blonde hairstyle to make her look like the singer. Lizzie Smith of the Daily Mail wrote that she had a "stunning performance". The live version of the song at the show was later released in 2008. Knowles performed the song live at Barack Obama's first dance with his wife Michelle during the Neighborhood Ball on the night of his inauguration as President of the United States. She told Entertainment Tonight: "To sing 'At Last' while they have their first dance is a dream come true. I could not be more honored and excited that they have asked me to be part of this moment in history." Jen Chaney of The Washington Post wrote, "...she sang it, tearfully, another high-profile time. On that night, the song’s expression of a romantic promise fulfilled clearly spoke to the hope that political promises would be fulfilled, not to mention the notion that, at last, an African-American had assumed this nation's highest honor." Etta James, who was not happy at all, remarked to the audience at a concert a week later: "You guys know your president, right? You know the one with the big ears?" James asked from the stage of Seattle's Paramount Theatre. "Wait a minute, he ain't my president. He might be yours; he ain't my president. But I tell you that woman he had singing for him, singing my song — she's going to get her ass whupped." A week later, she continued savaging Knowles' performance by adding: "The great Beyoncé. Like I said, she ain't mine. [...] I can't stand Beyoncé. She has no business up there, singing up there on a big ol' president day, gonna be singing my song that I've been singing forever." However, she later told the New York Daily News she meant no harm when poked fun at the president and she ripped Knowles for her performance of "At Last" during the inauguration. She said: "I didn't really mean anything. Even as a little child, I've always had that comedian kind of attitude. [...] That's probably what went into it." Still, James acknowledged being miffed she was not invited to perform her signature song for Obama's first dance with his wife on inauguration night. The event was telecast live on multiple broadcast and cable television networks. At each of the balls, the Obamas' dance song remained "At Last".
"At Last" was included in the set list of Knowles' third concert tour I Am... World Tour (2009-2010). It was performed in the penultimate section of the concert when Knowles appeared on stage wearing a long gold sparkly gown with lights at her from all around the arena. During the performance, a footage of her singing the song at Obama's inauguration, video images of civil rights era footage and snippets from her performance of the song in the movie, Cadillac Records (2008) were shown on the screens behind here. A writer of South Florida Times praised the video montage saying that it was "beautifully" edited and added that Knowles made a "perfect melding" of past and present with the performance of the song. Rolling Stone's Caryn Ganz commented that the performance of the song showed a "torchy... display of vocal gymnastics". Jay Lustig of New Jersey On-Line commented that the performances of "At Last" were "as riveting as anything that had come before" during the concert and noted that "Few pop or R&B divas could be as compelling with all the visual hoopla stripped away." Barbara Ellen of The Observer wrote that there was an interesting segment during the performance of "At Last" on the tour and Tamara Hardingham-Gill of the Daily Mail wrote that her rendition of the song proved an emotional moment. Alice Jones of The Independent wrote that the live rendition of the song was one of the "big-hitters" during the night. A writer of Evening Chronicle wrote that he was "blown away" by the performance while Mike Ross of the website Jam! added that Knowles proved she could sing traditional R&B if she wanted with the cover of "At Last". Jay Hanna of The Sunday Times described the performance of the song as truly inspired with Knowles simply standing and delivering the song. Jim Farber of the Daily News gave a mixed performance for the song, noting that "Her run at 'At Last' still lacks the terrific sense of relief Etta James manages effortlessly."
Knowles also performed "At Last" live at the 2011 Glastonbury Festival on June 26, 2011. During the ITV special A Night With Beyoncé which aired on December 4, 2011 in the United Kingdom, Knowles performed "At Last" to a selected crowd of fans. During The Sound of Change Live charity concert held at Twickenham Stadium in London on June 1, 2013, Knowles also performed "At Last". Alice Vincent of The Daily Telegraph noted that the cover reflected the event's purpose and proved Knowles can "own a big ballad".
On the Billboard Jazz Songs chart, the song peaked at number 9 becoming Knowles' only song to appear on that chart. For the week ending December 17, 2011, Knowles' version of "At Last" peaked at number 37 on the UK R&B Chart.
Format and track listing
- Digital download
- "At Last" (Live from Fashion Rocks) – 2:53
|United States||November 3, 2008||Smooth jazz radio||Music World, Columbia|
|November 18, 2008||Digital download|
|October 27, 2009||Urban contemporary radio|
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