The songwriting team of Mack Gordon and Harry Warren wrote this in 1941 for the film musical Sun Valley Serenade
. The following year it was rearranged and re-recorded and used in the film Orchestra Wives
. It was performed in both movies by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra with vocals by Ray Eberle, and the song became a major big band hit in October 1942. Gordon and Warren composed other hits together, including "Chattanooga Choo Choo
," "Serenade in Blue," "You'll Never Know," and "There Will Never Be Another You." Many of their songs were for musical motion pictures, including at least one written for Shirley Temple. Before teaming up, they were successful composers on their own and wrote numerous other songs with other partners. Gordon wrote the lyrics and Warren wrote the music.
Etta James recorded this in 1961 shortly after signing with Chess records. Leonard Chess thought James was a classy ballad singer and saw pop crossover potential in her; it was his decision to back her with violin orchestrations for the song. Her version went to #2 on the R&B charts.
With lyrics about finding that one true love and a classical feel, this is a very popular wedding song.
Ten years after the original, Ray Anthony & his Orchestra returned this to the charts in a version with vocals by Tommy Mercer.
Etta James was born Jamesetta Hawkins on January 25, 1938, in Los Angeles. She started singing at only five years old in her Baptist church choir. Known for her amazing voice, many people considered James the "Queen Of Soul" before Aretha Franklin claimed the title. Her stage name came from switching around the letters in her first name, Jamesetta.
James battled various drug addictions through the years, but it rarely affected her music. She was in the midst of her addictions and other personal and professional problems when "At Last" was recorded.
It is her most enduring song, but is not typical of her work. Many of her songs have more of a blues feel and often contain darker lyrics that reflect the challenges she faced. James never gained massive popularity, but she eventually beat her two-decade drug problems and has been cited as an influence by many younger singers, including Christina Aguilera. She was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, and continued to tour and record into the '00s. She died on January 20, 2012.
Some of the artists who have recorded this song include Cyndi Lauper, Celine Dion, Gladys Knight and Joan Osborne. Christina Aguilera and Jason Mraz have both covered it in concert.
This is featured on the soundtrack of the 1998 movie Pleasantville, starring Tobey Maguire. That same year, it was also used in the movie Rain Man in a scene where Tom Cruise teaches Dustin Hoffman how to dance.
Beyoncé covered this for the soundtrack of the 2008 movie Cadillac Records, which told the story of Chess Records. The Destiny's Child singer portrayed Etta James in the film.
Beyoncé sang "At Last" at Barack Obama's first dance with his wife, Michelle, during the Neighborhood Ball on the night of his inauguration as American president. Thanks to interest aroused by her rendition, Beyoncé's version entered the American Hot 100 at #67. All was well until Etta James spoke out at a concert in Seattle. Apparently miffed at not being asked to perform her signature song for Obama, James said: "I can't stand Beyoncé. On a big old president day, don't be up there singing my song that I've been singing forever."
Fifty years after the song's release, it entered the UK top 40 for the first time following the announcement of the passing of Etta James. The song previously reached #69 in 2010 after being covered on The X Factor.
This was one of five songs that Simon Cowell said he never wants to hear again at an audition. "I'm allergic to it," he said during a conference call to promote the US première of X Factor.
He's not alone in this sentiment: American Idol host Ryan Seacrest said that hearing this in one audition after another ruined the song for him.