(January 25, 1938 – January 20, 2012)
Etta James, who was born Jamesetta Hawkins, was an American singer. Her style spanned a variety of music genres including blues, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, soul, gospel and jazz.
Jamesetta Hawkins was born on January 25, 1938, in Los Angeles, California, to a 14 years young Dorothy Hawkins . As a result, James lived with a series of caregivers.
James received her first professional vocal training at the age of five from James Earle Hines, musical director of the Echoes of Eden choir, at the St. Paul Baptist Church in Los Angeles. She became a popular singing attraction at the church.
In 1950 Mama Lu, the mother figure James grew up with, died, and James’ real mother took her to the Fillmore district in San Francisco. Within a couple of years, James began listening to doo-wop and was inspired to form a girl group, called the Creolettes; whose name was inspired by the members light skinned complexions. The 14-year-old girls met musician Johnny Otis. Otis took the group under his wing, helping them sign to Modern Records and changing their name from the Creolettes to the Peaches and gave the singer her stage name reversing Jamesetta into Etta James.
In early 1961, James released what became her signature song, At Last. The song reached number two on the R&B chart and number 47 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was not as successful as expected, but it has become the most remembered rendition of the song.
James’s musical style changed during the course of her career. When her recording career began in the mid-50s, James was marketed as an R&B and doo wop singer. After signing with Chess Records in 1960, James broke through as a traditional pop-styled singer, covering jazz and pop music standards on her debut album, At Last! James’s voice deepened and became coarser, moving her musical style in her later years into the genres of soul and jazz.
Etta James had once been measured one of the most overlooked blues and R&B musicians in American music history. It was not until the early 1990s when James began receiving major industry awards from the Grammys and the Blues Foundation that she began to receive wide recognition.
James is regarded as having bridged the gap between rhythm and blues and rock and roll, and is the winner of six Grammys and 17 Blues Music Awards. She was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, the Blues Hall of Fame in 2001, and the Grammy Hall of Fame in both 1999 and 2008. Rolling Stone ranked James number 22 on their list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time and number 62 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.
James was hospitalized in January 2010 to treat an infection caused by MRSA, a bacterium that is resistant to most antibiotic treatment. During her hospital stay, her son revealed that James had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2008.
She was diagnosed with leukemia in early 2011. The illness became terminal and she died on January 20, 2012, just five days before her 74th birthday, at Riverside Community Hospital in Riverside, California.
- Singing legend Etta James dies at 73 (edition.cnn.com)
- A Sad Week in Music – The Death of Etta James and Johnny Otis (musiccourt.wordpress.com)