It all started with a hairbrush. As a youngster, Etta Britt (born Melissa Prewitt) would spend hours at her bedroom mirror, belting out Supremes songs into her Stanley hairbrush. The seasoned veteran has toured the world and shared a stage or recording studio with everyone from Engelbert Humperdinck to REO Speedwagon. With what she calls a “cool groove record” — her first album for the Wrinkled Records label — Etta stakes her claim as one of the most versatile singers working today. She also happens to write her share of heart-piercing, soul-affirming tunes. Think Bonnie Raitt meets John Hiatt.
Born in Lancaster, Ky., a town of 3,500 south of Lexington, Melissa first became Etta at age 11, thanks to her little sister. “She called me Etta and I called her Myrna. We don’t know why. It could’ve been a couple of old ladies in our hometown out in the country. We don’t know.”
In 1978, Melissa joined Dave Rowland and Sue Powell in the country-music trio Dave & Sugar. Melissa stayed with the trio from 1979 to 1985, during which time they received CMA Vocal Group of the Year nominations five years in a row. They toured with Kenny Rogers, Dottie West and Conway Twitty, among many others. The experience led to countless TV appearances — everything from Pop! Goes the Country and Solid Gold to the Dinah Shore Show and Dance Fever.
After Dave & Sugar, Melissa made the rounds in Nashville, playing clubs and singing on sessions with Waylon Jennings and others. During a session with Leon Russell, Etta’s husband, renowned guitarist Bob Britt, memorialized his wife’s stage name when he scribbled the name “Etta Britt” on a track sheet after Melissa’s sister called asking for Etta.
One sleepless night not long ago, Etta was sipping coffee and sitting in front of her computer. Updating her Facebook status, she wrote “Alone in a quiet house.” A few weeks later, the line would come back to her after being contacted — through Facebook — by songwriter Rebecca Lynn Howard. The two instantly formed a mutual admiration society, and when they added award-winning songwriter Rachel Thibodeau to their very first writing session, one of her album’s most strikingly beautiful songs, “Quiet House,” was born. She also recorded two songs pitched to her by legendary singer Michael McDonald and cut “Leap of Faith,” popularized by Delbert McClinton, as a rockin’ duet with Delbert himself.
“With some of the more uptempo things, I can picture someone sweeping their floor or groovin’ along sitting in their car,” says Etta. “But with ‘The Chokin’ Kind,’ (a Harlan Howard classic), I want a big knot to come into their stomach. I just want to be able to touch people.”
If the voice doesn’t do it (and it does), the songs themselves put listeners on notice that Etta Britt is a courageous and genuine artist.