Last week, two giants of American music passed away: Johnny Otis and Etta James. Otis was 90 years old and, besides being a songwriter, recording artist, bandleader, and nightclub owner, he was one of the greatest talent scouts ever. He discovered talents like Little Richard, Big Mama Thornton, Esther Phillips, Jackie Wilson, and the pre-eminent songwriting geniuses of the '50s and '60s, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Johnny Otis also hosted radio shows and wrote books. The California native seemed to be everywhere and do everything. Listen to his hit recordings of "Harlem Nocturne" and "Willie and the Hand Jive" and you get a sense of the breadth and depth of his talents.

Among Johnny Otis's finest discoveries was the magnificent soul singer, Etta James, who also passed away last week. If you are not familiar with her hit recordings like "Tell Mama" and "At Last," perhaps you heard Beyoncé sing them in the 2008 film, Cadillac Records, a fictionalized account of the early days of Chicago's Chess Records. Her big voice will live on in the memory of your superior correspondents and anyone else who fell under the spell of her classic recordings.


ENOUGH!

The story of the Cranston High School West prayer banner has been all over the news for weeks (months, actually). One would think it would have gone away by now. It was a pretty straightforward "controversy." A student at the school took umbrage with the religious nature of the banner and, along with the local chapter of the ACLU, went to court claiming that it was unconstitutional.

She made her argument in the spirit of Rhode Island founder Roger Williams, a seminal thinker when it comes to the separation of church and state. The court found in the student's favor and demanded that the banner be taken down. This is the way things work in our democratic republic.

What is not right is the way that this student, Jessica Ahlquist, has been received in her community. She has been called an "evil little thing" by a state legislator (the almost-always-wrong-about-everything Representative Peter Palumbo), been the subject of vicious Facebook postings, and actually received death threats. An atheist organization sought to send her a bouquet of flowers and was rebuffed by a number of local florists. Are you proud of yourself, fellow Vo Dilunduhs, who have bought into this ridiculous hysteria?

Leave Jessica Ahlquist alone! She is a bright and courageous young lady who you do not agree with. Let it go at that. "And time will tell/Just who has fell/And who's been left behind/When you go your way and I go mine."


BEST WISHES TO A TROUBLED SOUL

P&J take no pleasure in the troubles that State Representative Bob Watson (R-East Greenwich) has brought upon himself. We know and like Bob and are glad to hear that he has decided to put himself into rehab. Forget about his political career. Bob's life is at stake here and we wish him the best and hope that he finds solace and that his stint in rehab works. Take it from us: we know that it works if you work it. Good luck, Bob.


KUDOS AND CONGRATS . . .

. . . to Central Falls native Viola Davis, who has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her work in The Help. She's up against the great Meryl Streep so she is definitely the underdog here, but she adds to her collection of brilliant screen portrayals. This is just the beginning of a great career that stands as an inspiration to Rhode Island girls and young artists everywhere.

Send Fig Newtons and Pulitzer-grade tips to  p&j@phx.com.

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