- Etta James' classic "At Last" is a popular wedding song
- Couples who featured the song at weddings pay tribute to the singer, who died January 20
- Some chose the song to show how long they dated; others because they married later in life
- See all the tributes, including one bride's rendition of the song, on CNN iReport
The familiar string intro filled the room. The happy couple stepped onto the dance floor. And as they took each other's arms, Etta James' voice began to tell the story of their marriage.
"At last ... "
"We had waited so long to meet the right person," recalled Jennifer Macdonel of Sugar Land, Texas, who married her husband, Rudy, in March 2010. She was 32, and he was 41. "It seemed as if everyone we knew was already married, or had been married before. Just when we thought that we had kissed every frog left in the universe and given up on true love, we met."
It's a fairy tale scene that's been witnessed at thousands of weddings since James' recording of the classic, romantic song "At Last" was released in 1961. And though James died on January 20 at age 73, her legacy lives on in couples around the world. After her death, many of them paid tribute to the woman who described their relationships like no one else could.
When the Macdonels heard that James had died, they honored her by rewatching their wedding video and dancing under the stars to the song she made famous.
"No other song could possibly capture the story behind our love, and the very long journey that we endured until we finally met," Jennifer Macdonel said. "Etta James will forever live deep in our souls, as every time we watch our wedding video and hear that song, we will be reminded of our special day."
Many other couples chose "At Last" as their song for the same reason.
"My wife and I were born just a month apart in 1977 across the world," said Nicholas Montana, an American whose wife, Leily Vassigh-Montana, is from Iran. "It wasn't 'til we were both at the age of 30 did we meet and marry six months later. 'At Last' seemed like a song that was meant to be, just like our intertwining fates."
Nicholas hadn't heard the song before the couple had to choose a piece for their first dance as husband and wife, but "was taken by its emotional character and lyrics. Little did I know it was such a popular wedding song, and rightfully so," he said. The pair were married in April 2008 and now live in Miami.
"We wish [James'] family to be proud that she was able to bring so much joy to many couples around the world," he added.
For other couples, the song was a humorous nod to long courtships that their families thought would never end at the altar.
When Kimberly Griffiths and her husband, Richard Cicciarelli, stepped onto the dance floor to the first strains of "At Last," their wedding guests burst out laughing. The pair had dated for nine years before finally getting married in July 2008 in upstate New York.
"As the music started and the first words of 'At Last' blasted over the speakers, everyone laughed and clapped because they all knew it was a long journey for us," Griffiths said.
"It was the perfect fit. It was one of my favorite songs," she said. "It's so soulful and tells exactly how I feel about the relationship with my husband. ... No one could reproduce the feeling that Etta conveys when she sings it."
"At Last" was the soundtrack to Tina and Craig Wehrbein's engagement and wedding, so of course they had to go see James live when she performed in their city of Omaha, Nebraska, in 2007.
"We couldn't wait to go see her sing our song live on stage," Tina wrote. "She was in her late sixties at the time, but wow -- what an entertainer she was! I was pregnant with our second child when we saw her, but that didn't stop me from enjoying the concert like a teenager!"
Another couple had a different kind of message in mind when they chose "At Last" for their wedding. Jasmine Brown-Denny married her husband, Randy Denny, in September 2009. The Brooklyn, New York, couple chose the song because it seemed to describe their relationship -- and to honor President Barack Obama.
"The song also signified the inauguration of the first African American president," Brown-Denny said. "We were both big supporters of President Obama and his campaign and excitedly watched several inauguration balls where the song played prominently." She remembers staying up all night watching the president and first lady Michelle Obama dance the night away at the inaugural balls.
"When we chose the song, we had the first family in mind."
And for Jenn Greenberg, "At Last" was always her wedding song. She knew from the time she was 10 years old that it would be played at her wedding.
"My mom would play this song, as a record, when I was a little girl and I thought it was so romantic," said the Epping, New Hampshire, resident. "I would listen to it and piece together all the traits and things that would make the perfect husband. I've always known that 'At Last' would be the song I'd want to use as my wedding song with my husband."
In June 2006, Greenberg married her husband, Dave, and finally got to dance to her -- and thousands of couples' -- perfect wedding song. All thanks to Etta James.