Although she said [news id="1604348"]Beyoncé deserved to be "whipped"[/news] during a show in Seattle last month, "At Last" singer [artist id="450150"]Etta James[/artist] now says she was just trying to be funny.
The firestorm that greeted a recording of James dissing [news id="1236911"]Beyoncé[/news] and saying unkind things about president Obama subsided somewhat on Friday (February 6), when the New York Daily News reported that James — seemingly upset that [news id="1603122"]B had sung her signature song, "At Last,"[/news] at Obama's inauguration last month — said she was joking around when she claimed she "can't stand" the "Single Ladies" singer.
"I didn't really mean anything," the notoriously cantankerous James told the tabloid about her January 28 screed, noting that she was a bit upset about not being asked to sing her signature song at the inauguration. "Even as a little child, I've always had that comedian kind of attitude. ... That's probably what went into it.
"Nobody was getting mad at me in Seattle," she added. "They were all laughing, and it was funny."
In fact, on a tape of the rant that surfaced online, the audience does appear to be egging James on, clapping and hooting at her salty monologue. She said she was feeling "left out of something that was basically mine, that I had done every time you look around." The song, written in 1941, was first recorded by the Glenn Miller Orchestra, and then by Nat King Cole in 1957, but is best known for James' 1961 cover.
On Friday, a spokesperson for Beyoncé had no comment on the situation.
James reportedly told the paper that her broadside did not come from a "vicious place," but when asked if she thought she could outsing Beyoncé — who portrayed James in "Cadillac Records" — the 71-year-old legend offered, "I think so. That's a shame to say that."
She also hoped that Obama would not take her jibes about his "big ears" and him not being "my president," personally, explaining, "He's got other stuff [to worry about] besides Etta James."
She noted that she "always thought he was handsome and he was cool," and that her joke "might be horrible. The president might not ever like me in life."
An anonymous White House insider reportedly told Chicago Sun-Times gossip columnist Bill Zwecker, "It never crossed anyone's mind that there was anything inappropriate about Beyoncé singing that song. ... First of all, the message of the song was so perfect. Beyoncé sang it in the ['Cadillac Records'] film, and I don't think the people organizing that event even knew Etta was still performing. ... I'm sure some of the younger people involved didn't even know she is still alive!"
James had previously been supportive of Beyoncé, who earned praise for her warts-and-all portrayal of the singer in "Records." At the rehearsals for his annual Pre-Grammy Gala on Thursday, legendary music mogul Clive Davis told MTV News said he had not heard James' remarks, but that he didn't take the alleged rift too seriously.
"I know that last year when I introduced Leona Lewis to Whitney Houston there was a sense of visible awe," Davis said of the relationship between new stars and veterans. "It was not, 'I'm gonna show a past generation [up].' I'm not saying it was a lovefest, but back in the day ... they could all be great, but they competed with each other. But I don't think it's indigenous to artists. I don't view it as a problem."