Jan 20 2012

Music legend Etta James died today at the age of 73. The legacy she left behind in music is timeless and beautiful. But the memory she left with me is one of the highlights of my career.
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Etta played at Edgefield Concerts on the Lawn in 2007. The idea that I was going to be able to photograph Etta James was crazy to me -- it wasn't really setting in. Before the concert I was making small talk with another photographer who warned me that "Etta hates having her photo taken." I thought that was silly since I had been granted photo clearance from her management -- I thought, she can't hate it that much.

The concert started, so I got right up there on stage, getting the shot I needed. I was in awe of the power of her voice; she still had it.
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The first song ended, and Etta started talking to the audience. WAIT, she was talking to the audience -- about me! She told the crowd how some girl down in front was taking her photo. At first I didn't believe she was talking about me -- but then she looked right at me.

I pointed at myself, mouthing, "Me?"
And she said, "Yes, you!"

OH MY GOD. Etta freaking James just called me out, in front of 5,000 people.

I started yelling, "I'm sorry, Etta, I love you! No more photos, I promise." She then went on to some other banter, as I stood shocked and in complete disbelief -- did that just happen? Then she starts talking to me again, through the mike, so that all 5,000 people are listening.

She said to me - and I quote: "I don't want you to be mad at me. Don't hate me."
"NO, I'M NOT MAD AT ALL, I LOVE YOU, ETTA! "

So we ended on a good note. Wow. That happened.

I made my way out of the venue, where people who saw me with my big camera asked, "Are you the one Etta was yelling at!?" -- "Yep, that was me." Wait -- that was me. Etta James and I had a moment, and it was amazing.

To this day, that is the single-most memorable experience I've had photographing music, and I have the to photos to prove it.

Rest in peace, Etta.

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About the author: Liz Devine has been McMenamins fulltime photographer for 5 years. She is the eyes for the company.
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#1 Jon Sokol

Wow, amazing story, Liz.... thanks for sharing.

RIP Etta!

#2 Carrie Hehn

Great photos!

#3 Christy

Liz, thanks...that made me laugh! We were at that concert, and we SO LOVE ETTA, it's beyond words. I remember, too, that moment, but didn't quite understand what had happened exactly, so glad you explained that and had a wonderful "moment" with the Queen of R&B, Miss Etta James! We had a bit of a moment, too...when she came out on stage we had a VERY loud cheering section of a few people, and she looked up at us and smiled!! I will treasure that always, always...heaven just got a lot more beautiful today.

#4 Nicole

Hey I was at that concert and totally remember that! :-) What a wonderful moment you have to cherish! I know I was truly in awe with her performance that night! She still had the attitude, the energy and the voice that made my jaw drop and my skin tingle with goose bumps. I feel honored to have witnessed such a legend......RIP Etta

#5 Susan

I've some amazing and incredible experiences at Edgefield concerts. They bring you so close to the artists! Wow, you and Etta?!?!?!? She's a legend! Your photos are gorgeous and your story makes me cry.
Thank you.
Love you, Etta...see you again.

#6 JaMc

I so totally remember that moment! Thank you for sharing the great pix. Etta is irreplaceable!!

#7 Joe Fabeets

Etta was awesome!

#8 Kathy L. Rankin

I had about the same experience. Etta James was to appear at the Mt. Hood Festival of Jazz, as a replacement for Albert Collins, as he was ill and couldn't make it. So when Etta came, I was instructed that we would only put the video on the big screen for the audience but we didn't have consent to record the video.  Etta James said she wanted nothing to do with any cameras. So Unfortunately, I was not able to operate the closest camera to the stage on a tripod! But the show was terrific. She also didn't allow ANY cameras or photos to be taken. 

#9 Dee McDermott

Considering making reservations for our 55 wedding anniversary, August 23. This is bitter sweet for me as my mother, her 3 sisters and two brothers were children of the "poor farm". So glad something has been done to bring people joy. Have heard it is wonderful staying here. It is a bit unsettling for me although need to make those reservations. Thank you for bring joy to people with the "resort" atmosphere.

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