“It all comes full circle at some point” … Back in the early 1980’s, I was invited by club owner, Ted Wilebski, to perform with the one and only Etta James. Etta agreed to play at Wilebski’s (now known as “Wilebski’s Blues Saloon”) provided that Ted put together a local back-up band for her. One night, I got a call from Ted, asking me if I’d like to play in concert with Etta James. There was only one answer for this! I performed two shows with Etta that year, only to receive a call the following year from Ted, asking me if I’d like to do two more shows with this great legend. He said that Etta asked specifically for me. This was “music to my ears.”
About 15 years passed, and I received a call from my musician friend, Jean Verstraete, a harmonica player and a writer for “The Blues News.” Etta was performing at an outdoor concert in Minneapolis and Jean, as a reporter, had an extra back-stage pass for me. We got to the concert early. Etta’s manager shouted out that Etta was not feeling her best. She was going ahead with her show, but she was not going to be doing any interviews. I approached her manager and politely said “I think if Etta knew I was here, she’d want to say a quick ‘hello.’ I played sax with her years ago.” He asked “Is your name ‘Rose?’ I said “yes,” and he took me back stage and said “She talks about you.”
Etta was very happy to see me and said she would have taken me out after the show if she would have been feeling better. I had my picture taken with her, and I began to walk away. I then heard her shout out my name. I walked back towards her, and she said “Rose, I want you to know that I get your Christmas card every year, and I look forward to receiving one each year. I’m sorry that I’ve never been able to send one to you.” I just smiled and said “That’s okay.”
I vividly remember decorating my house this past Christmas. I looked out my big picture window to take in the most beautiful snowfall I have ever seen. In selecting a Christmas CD to listen to, I came across Etta’s CD. I put it in my CD player and quickly realized that I was not going to be able to send her a card anymore. I sat down on my couch and texted my sister, Nancy, about my feelings of sadness. The very moment I texted the words “Christmas card,” Etta’s one-of-a-kind singing voice came shining through, loud and crystal clear … “With every Christmas card I write … May your days be merry … and bright … and may all your Christmases be white.” No doubt, I got my first Christmas card from the late, Great Etta James … sent from up above … I think SQuire Rushnell, the author of “When God Winks” and “Divine Alignment,” would most definitely agree with me … This was a true “God Wink.”
Jean Verstraete and I had lost touch for many years. I became busy with my kids, and Jean was also busy with her son. We reconnected on Facebook back a couple years ago. She had been battling cancer. She was a true warrior for the longest time … but I recently saw a notice on Facebook that Jean had just two weeks left to survive here on earth. It was important for me to visit her to tell her about my Etta James Christmas story. After all, she was instrumental in getting me back stage for my visit with Etta. I arrived at Jean’s bed side the very next day. She looked terribly exhausted. I took her hand and said “Jean, this is Rose Duffy.” Jean’s eyes opened widely … and she listened to my every word. She had a huge smile on her face, and I knew that she understood what I was telling her. Unfortunately, Jean passed away the following day … Jean touched so many lives with her loving heart … My thoughts and prayers go out to her family and friends during this difficult time.
This past weekend, I attended the service for Jean. I also went to the open jam session that immediately followed the service in celebration of her life. I played about 5 tunes with the band. When I got off the stage, I was approached by the singer/percussionist who was also on stage with the band. Her name is Lady J of KFAI Radio. I gave her my card, and she called me the following day. She said that my story is “fresh” and invited me to do an interview with her on her radio program. Please tune in to KFAI Radio (FM 90.3 and FM 106.7 FM, St. Paul/Minneapolis) on July 2nd at 5:00 p.m. (CST). You can also tune in from anywhere in the world (KFAI.org). I know in my heart that Jean has now met up with her idol … and they are “working it” from up above …