Wednesday, January 21, 2009

At Last - first song at the Inaugural Balls

On January 20, 2009, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle danced to various renditions of this song at each of the 10 official balls honoring his inauguration. Beyoncé Knowles, who portrayed Etta James in the film Cadillac Records, sang the song live for the Obama's first dance during the Neighborhood Ball, the first they attended on the night of his inauguration.

I found a dream that I can speak to,
A dream that I can call my own.
I found a thrill to press my cheek to,
A thrill I've never known.

“At Last” (1941) was written by lyricist Mack Gordon and composer Harry Warren and debuted in the film musical Orchestra Wives, performed on screen by the Glenn Miller Orchestra. The song was a major hit for Miller, reaching number 14 on the Billboard pop charts in 1942. It soon became a standard, recorded by Nat King Cole (1957) and Etta James (1960), who was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999 for her recording of this song. Aside from the lyric, there was another facet of appropriateness in using this song at the inauguration of our nation's first black president, since Nat King Cole was the first black person to have a weekly radio and TV program (1956-57).

In this video clip from Orchestra Wives, the Glenn Miller Orchestra introduces the song to the public in its original form, as a swing tune (1942), far removed from the R&B version popularized by Etta James. Trivia: Note that Jackie Gleason (string bass) and Cesar Romero (piano) are in the orchestra! Gleason had a successful side career as a musician (composer, arranger and conductor), and Romero was an accomplished ballroom dancer. The film is of interest in that it depicts the lives of working big band musicians.

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