Chess Records Gets Star Treatment; Beyonce To Portray Etta James
by Linda Cain
Chicago’s Chess Records, the famed independent label that launched the careers of legends like Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Etta James, will get the Hollywood treatment in an upcoming film produced by and starring Beyonce Knowles.
Titled, “Cadillac Records,” the film will be set in the 1950s and follow the lives of the label’s founders, Polish immigrants the Chess Brothers, along with the often unstable lives of their artists. Beyonce will portray firebrand singer Etta James and Oscar winner Adrian Brody is cast as Leonard Chess. Other cast members include Jeffrey Wright (Muddy Waters), Cedric the Entertainer (Willie Dixon) and Columbus Short (Little Walter).
Darnell Martin wrote the screenplay and the film’s music will be produced by Steve Jordan. Beyonce will record four songs for the soundtrack, to be released on Music World Entertainment and Columbia Records.
Beyonce has pledged to donate a portion of her fees for the film to help recovering addicts through the Survivor Foundation, a charity run by her family.
The story of the tough and abrasive Chess brothers, Leonard and Phil, along with the incredible talent they discovered and took under their wings is a fascinating tale. Thanks to the indie label’s widespread distribution and airplay, the music created on Chicago’s South Side went on to capture audiences around the world. British invasion bands like The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, The Yardbirds and The Animals, just to name a few, were highly influenced by Chess artists.
The first time the Rolling Stones performed in Chicago, they made a pilgrimage to Chess Studios, located at 2120 S. Michigan Avenue, in hopes of meeting some of their idols. In fact, the band’s name came from a Muddy Waters song. The long-haired Brits recorded most of the songs for their second album, “12x5”, at Chess Studios in 1964-65. One of the Stones’ songs is titled “2120 South Michigan”.
Today the historic Chess building houses the Blues Heaven Foundation, a charitable group founded by the late Willie Dixon. The studios have been preserved as a museum and rehearsal space. Tours are available and live music concerts are often scheduled.
For more info, visit: www.bluesheaven.com