Music Friday: Etta James Wants Diamonds, Not Flowers, in 1961's 'Tough Mary'

April 1, 2022

Welcome to Music Friday when we often bring you vintage songs with jewelry, gemstones or precious metals in the lyrics or title. Today, the spotlight shines on the legendary Etta James and her 1961 satirical romp, “Tough Mary.”

Etta1

In the song, James steps into the role of Mary, a sassy and pretty girl who attracts more than her share of suitors. Boys come from miles around bearing gifts, but Mary makes it clear that it's going to take diamonds, not flowers, to get her attention.

James belts, “Don’t bring me flowers / Don’t bring me the sea / Just bring me diamonds, that’ll suit me fine / And I’ll love you forever, and you’ll be mine.”

“Tough Mary” is the fifth track on James’ At Last! album, a release that spawned four hits. One of those was the title song, which was to become the R&B legend’s signature tune. In 2012, Rolling Stone magazine ranked At Last! #119 on its list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

Born to a teen mother in 1938, Jamesetta Hawkins never knew her father and was raised primarily by her grandparents and foster families. She received her first professional vocal training at the age of five and soon became a popular singing attraction at the St. Paul Baptist Church in South Central Los Angeles.

She formed the doo-wop singing group — the Creolettes — with her friends in the early 1950s and scored her first hit single as a 15-year-old. One year later, James started dating B.B. King (“The King of the Blues”) and believed that King’s 1960 blockbuster hit “Sweet 16” was about her.

James went on to become a headliner in the early 1960s with a string of chart-toppers, including “The Wallflower,” “At Last,” “Tell Mama,” “Something’s Got a Hold on Me,” “Stormy Weather” and “I’d Rather Go Blind.”

Her unmistakable voice, unique style and ability to bridge so many musical genres — such as blues, R&B, soul, rock and roll, jazz and gospel — earned James coveted spots in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Blues Hall of Fame and the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Often referred to as the “The Matriarch of R&B,” James passed away in 2012, just five days shy of her 74th birthday.

We hope you enjoy the audio track of James performing “Tough Mary.” The lyrics are below if you’d like to sing along…

“Tough Mary”
Written by Lorenzo Manley. Performed by Etta James.

Tough Mary, Tough Mary (Yeah, that’s me)
Tough Mary is tough

The boys would come from miles around
With presents every day
But when they’d call on Mary
This is what she’d say:

Don’t bring me posies, when it’s shoes I need
(Tough Mary, Tough Mary, Tough Mary, Tough Mary)
Don’t bring me flowers, don’t bring me the sea
(Tough Mary, Tough Mary, Tough Mary is tough)
Just bring me diamonds, that’ll suit me fine
(Tough Mary, Tough Mary, Tough Mary, Tough Mary)
And I’ll love you forever, and you’ll be mine
(Tough Mary, Tough Mary, Tough Mary is tough!)

Well, Mary, she’s a very pretty girl
I guess she was born that way
But whenever they would tell her that
This is what she’d say:

Don’t bring me posies, when it’s shoes I need
(Tough Mary, Tough Mary, Tough Mary, Tough Mary)
Don’t bring me flowers, don’t bring me the sea
(Tough Mary, Tough Mary, Tough Mary is tough)
Come on and bring me some diamonds, that’ll suit me fine
(Tough Mary, Tough Mary, Tough Mary, Tough Mary)
And I’ll love you forever, and you’ll be mine
(Tough Mary, Tough Mary, Tough Mary is tough!)

Tough Mary
Tough Mary
Tough Mary

Don’t bring me no posies, when it’s shoes I need
(Tough Mary, Tough Mary, Tough Mary, Tough Mary)
Don’t bring me flowers, don’t bring me the sea
(Tough Mary, Tough Mary, Tough Mary is tough)
Come on and bring me some diamonds, that’ll suit me fine
(Tough Mary, Tough Mary, Tough Mary, Tough Mary)
And I’ll love you forever, and you’ll be mine
(Tough Mary, Tough Mary, Tough Mary is tough!)

Oh, I’m tough
(Tough Mary, Tough Mary, Tough Mary, Tough Mary)
Yeah, yeah I’m tough

Credit: Photo by John K. Addis, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.