There are a lot of great versions of the classic ballad “At Last.” Glenn Miller’s Orchestra played the original in the 1941 movie, Orchestra Wives and by 1942 it was in the top 10. Etta James’ incredibly powerful 1960 version made it into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and Beyonce, playing the role of Etta James, sang it in the film “Cadillac Records” before she sang it for Barrack and Michelle Obama at the inauguration ball. Of all the great versions of this song, Phoebe Snow’s live performance may be the most heartfelt. When you hear her sing, “you smiled at me, and then the spell was cast. And now, here we are in heaven, cause you are mine at last,” there is no denying that she is singing about a once-in-a-lifetime love that transformed her life. But the story of that great love may surprise you.
Phoebe Snow told her fans that the great love to whom she dedicated this song was her daughter, Valerie Rose. Of course, this was not a surprise. Snow was just 22, when her recording of Poetry Man soared to number 1 and her incredible voice made her an instant legend in 1974. She turned her back on fame and fortune shortly thereafter, however, when her daughter was born the following year. Valerie suffered asphyxia and had severe developmental disabilities, and for the next 31 years Pheobe Snow made caring for her daughter her first priority.
“When I first knew there was going to be something wrong with my kid, and that I was going to have to make a decision about that, I had no idea what to do. I was completely flying without a manual. And then I held her and I said, ‘That’s the only training manual I need.’ … I fell in love the minute I looked at her.” [Quoted in JIM BECKERMAN, Snow never let career get in the way November 20, 2008 Herald News (West Paterson, NJ) p. C02]
Don’t get wrong. This is not about a woman who sacrificed everything for a life of misery in the name of her child, and it is not a subtle way of supporting the false notion that women must give up their careers to be good mothers. This is a story of a woman who made a choice about what was most important to her, and never regretted it. She still found time to do an occasionally with Paul Simon, Linda Ronstadt, Billy Joel, and others. She still made a good living singing commercials for Hallmark, AT&T, Stouffer’s and many others.
Sadly, Valerie died at 31 in 2007 and Pheobe died at 58 in 2011. Pheobe Snow was a great mother as well as a great talent, and her love for Valerie Rose enriched her life,