At Last"At Last" is a song written by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren for the musical film Sun Valley Serenade (1941). Glenn Miller and his orchestra recorded the tune several times, with a 1942 version reaching number two on the US Billboard pop music chart.
In 1960, rhythm and blues singer Etta James recorded an arrangement by Riley Hampton that improvised on Warren's melody. James' version was the title track on her debut album At Last! (1960) and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. Celine Dion and Beyoncé also had chart successes with the song.
Glenn Miller renditionsPrior to release of Sun Valley Serenade, "At Last" was performed in the film by Glenn Miller and his orchestra, with vocals by John Payne and Lynn Bari, dubbed by Pat Friday. Studio head Darryl Zanuck reportedly said, "There are too many big ones in this. Let's save one for the next." The "At Last" vocal by Payne and Bari was thus deleted, although instrumental versions remained in the film, including in the Black Ice Ballet finale.
Unreleased recordings of the song had been made in 1941 by Glenn Miller. A new version was recorded by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra in Hollywood on May 20, 1942, and released by RCA Victor Records as a 78 single, backed with the A-side "(I've Got a Gal In) Kalamazoo". The song entered the US Billboard pop music chart (called ""Songs with the Most Radio Plugs" at the time) on August 1, 1942 at number 17, and peaked at number two on August 29, 1942. It spent a total of 17 weeks on the chart, and later became a standard.
The personnel on the 1942 studio recording of "At Last": Ray Eberle (vocals), Billy May, John Best, Steve Lipkins, R.D. McMickle (trumpet), Glenn Miller, Jim Priddy, Paul Tanner, Frank D'Annolfo (trombone), Lloyd "Skip" Martin, Wilbur Schwartz (clarinet, alto saxophone), Tex Beneke, Al Klink (tenor saxophone), Ernie Caceres (baritone saxophone), Chummy MacGregor (piano), Bobby Hackett (guitar), Edward "Doc" Goldberg (string bass), and Maurice Purtill (drums). The arrangement was by Jerry Gray and Bill Finegan.
When RCA Victor issued two 10-inch LP soundtracks to Sun Valley Serenade and Orchestra Wives in 1954, to coincide with the theatrical reissue of the two films, the outtake version of "At Last" from "Sun Valley Serenade" was included, heard for the first time, but the version in Orchestra Wives was not. This latter rendition was eventually on LP in 1958, in the 20th-Fox double-disc (TCF-100-2) Glenn Miller Compilation of His Original Film Soundtracks.
The 1942 RCA Victor studio recording of "At Last" by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra featuring Ray Eberle on vocals was released as a U.S. Army V-Disc or Victory Disc by the U.S. War Department during World War II in October 1943 as No. 12A. V-Discs were sent to American soldiers and military personnel overseas.
In popular cultureThe Etta James recording appears in the films Rain Man, Pleasantville, American Pie, and Inland Empire, and such television series as It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Northern Exposure, Bates Motel, Criminal Minds, The Big Bang Theory, The Simpsons, The Good Place, Two Guys and a Girl, Shameless, Chuck and The Parkers. It has also been used in television commercials for such products as Jaguar automobiles, Hoover vacuum cleaners, State Farm insurance, and Applebee's restaurants. Paramount Pictures used the recording in its home video division's "The Man Of Your Dreams" promotion in 1998. It was also used on a trailer for the video game FIFA 16.
At the first inaugural ball 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.
Guest Star Cyndi Lauper sang this song in the 2013 episode of Bones, "The Woman in White," during a wedding.
Casey Kasem played the Etta James version of "At Last" on the June 11, 2005 of American Top 10 as an "Optional Extra Song" for its affiliate stations.
Other versions"At Last" has been covered by many other artists as well. 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 number two on the Billboard pop singles chart and number 20 on the Cashbox chart. Five years later, Nat King Cole recorded it for his 1957 album Love Is the Thing.
A cover by Gene Watson peaked at number 61 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart in 1991.
Percy Faith charted the medley of "At Last" and "Angel Face", which reached #91 in 1961 in the US Music Vendor Top 100.
Bing Crosby recorded it for his album Feels Good, Feels Right (1976)
Sonny Stitt recorded an instrumental version in 1982, which was released after his passing on The Last Sessions (Sonny Stitt album) (1983)
In 1995 R&B singer Tina Moore recorded "At Last" for her debut album entitled Tina Moore.
In 1998, AT&T sponsored a concert as a benefit for the Walden Woods Project and the Thoreau Institute. A promotional CD entitled "Stormy Weather," produced by Don Henley of The Eagles for The Isis Fund, was issued containing a variation of Riley Hampton's 1960 arrangement of "At Last" written for Etta James, performed by Stevie Nicks.
Canadian singer Liberty Silver recorded a rendition of the song in 2005.
Cyndi Lauper recorded a cover version for her 2003 cover album At Last.
Country singer Martina McBride recorded a cover version for her 2005 album, My Heart.
Danish singer Malene Mortensen recorded a cover version for her 2005 album, Date with a Dream.
In 2012, Christina Aguilera was invited by Etta James' family to sing "At Last" at James' funeral. At the funeral, Aguilera stated that James was her idol and inspiration, and that in honor of James, she performs "At Last" at every concert.
Aretha Franklin recorded a cover version as the opening track of her 2014 album Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics.
American duo Ha*Ash recorded a cover version for their 2014 album, Primera Fila: Hecho Realidad.
Etta James version
The song became Etta James's signature song and was the third in a string of successful songs from her Argo Records debut album (Argo LP 4003, mono; LPS 4003, stereo) At Last!. In April 1961, it became her second number two R&B hit single (Argo 5380) 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 (#30) and Music Vendor.
James' version, with its passionate vocal and sweeping orchestration, is often chosen for weddings and wedding receptions.
After one of James' other singles, "Something's Got a Hold on Me", was sampled in two hit singles in 2011 (Avicii's "Levels" and Flo Rida's "Good Feeling"), "At Last" charted in the United Kingdom for the first time at number 69. Following James' death in 2012, it rose into the top 40.
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 US on December 9, 2002. However, there was no music video made for the song. It was also the last single released from the album.
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 song is a soul soliloquy where Dion, accompanied by the delicate chords of a violin, sings about the joy of love found "at last".
"At Last" peaked at number 16 on the Adult Contemporary chart. 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 has performed the song on several television programs.
Critical receptionThe 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."
"At Last" was also covered by Beyoncé and included on the soundtrack album of the film Cadillac Records (2008). It was released on the soundtrack album on December 2, 2008 through Columbia Records. In the film, Beyoncé 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.'" Beyoncé 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."
Critical receptionJohn 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 Beyoncé's interpretation of "At Last" was "downright revelatory" and described Beyoncé 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",
Beyoncé 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 somewhat echoed by Robert Fontenot of About.com who thought that Beyoncé
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's songs or make them her own... Each time she covers classics like "At Last" and "Trust in Me," you hear Beyoncé, not Etta.
Beyoncé's version of "At Last" won the Grammy Award for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance at the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards. On The Village Voice 2008 year-end Pazz & Jop singles list, Beyoncé's version of "At Last" was ranked at number 443.
Live performances"At Last" was performed live for the first time by Beyoncé during the 2008 Fashion Rocks on September 5, 2008 as a tribute to James. The live version of the song at the show was later released in 2008. Beyoncé 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 from the stage of Seattle's Paramount Theatre a week later:
You guys know your president, right? You know the one with the big ears? 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 Beyoncé's 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 Beyoncé for her performance of "At Last" during the inauguration; 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 Beyoncé's third concert tour I Am... World Tour (2009–2010). It was performed in the penultimate section of the concert when Beyoncé appeared on stage wearing a long gold sparkly gown with lights at her from all around the arena. During the performance, footage of her performing 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 were all shown on the screens behind her. A writer of South Florida Times praised the video montage saying that it was "beautifully" edited and added that Beyoncé 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. 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 Beyoncé 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 Beyoncé 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."
Beyoncé 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, Beyoncé 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, Beyoncé also performed "At Last". Alice Vincent of The Daily Telegraph noted that the cover reflected the event's purpose and proved Beyoncé can "own a big ballad".