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Panthers: Gladys Knight, Etta James and Chaka Khan

by Jennifer Cairney

‘This is what panthers would sound like…if panthers could sing.’ Maya Angelou uses this phrase to describe a character in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and it fits these three to perfection. Sleek, powerful and more than a little bit scary their performances are unmarred by the fact that one of them totally disagrees with the lyrics they are singing, one of them is dressed as a dental hygienist (albeit one that likes pink) and one of them is drunk. I like to think that Chaka Khan’s massive gold earrings got bent that way in the superhuman struggle to get her on stage and facing the right way. Or maybe it was the quelling power of Etta James’ voice that curled their soft metal into such fat gold flutes. Or perhaps her own glorious molten notes bent them as she climbed a stairful of wrong notes before arriving at the top amazingly, fabulously, wonderfully in tune. The other two just smile their cat-like smiles, smiles that say we can do this and we can do this with ease. This is singing, this is sisterhood, this is soul…

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