Etta James (born Jamesetta Hawkins; January 25, 1938 – January 20, 2012) was an American singer whose style spanned a variety of music genres including blues, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, soul, gospel and jazz. Starting her career in the mid 1950s, she gained fame with hits such as "Dance With Me, Henry", "At Last", "Tell Mama", and "I'd Rather Go Blind" for which she claimed she wrote the lyrics. She faced a number of personal problems including drug addiction before making a musical resurgence in the late 1980s with the album, The Seven Year Itch.
She is regarded as having bridged the gap between rhythm and blues and rock and roll, and is the winner of six Grammys and seventeen 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 twenty-two on their list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time and number sixty-two on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.
 Early life and career: 1938–1959
Jamesetta Hawkins was born on January 25, 1938 in Los Angeles to Dorothy Hawkins, who was only fourteen at the time. Her father has never been identified but was rumored to be possibly white. James speculated that her father was the pool player, Rudolf "Minnesota Fats" Wanderone, and met him briefly in 1987. Due to her mother being often absent carrying on relationships with various men, James lived with a series of caregivers, most notably "Sarge" and "Mama" Lu. James called her mother "the Mystery Lady".
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, and Sarge tried to pressure the church into paying him money for her singing, but they refused. During drunken poker games at home, he would wake James up in the early hours of the morning and force her through beatings to sing for his friends. As she was a bed-wetter, and often soaked with her own urine on these occasions, the trauma of being forced to sing meant she had a life-long reluctance to sing on demand.
In 1950 Mama Lu 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 (due to the members' light skinned complexions). The 14-year-old girls met musician Johnny Otis. Stories on how they met vary including Otis' version in which James had come to his hotel after one of his performances in the city and persuaded him to audition her. Another story came that Otis spotted the group performing at a Los Angeles nightclub and sought them to record his "answer song" to Hank Ballard's "Work With Me, Annie". Nonetheless, 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. James recorded the version, which she was allowed to co-author, in 1954, and the song was released in early 1955 as "Dance with Me, Henry". Originally the name of the song was "Roll With Me, Henry" but was changed to avoid censorship due to the subtle title. In February of that year, the song reached number-one on the Hot Rhythm & Blues Tracks chart. Its success gave the group an opening spot on Little Richard's national tour.
While on tour with Richard, pop singer Georgia Gibbs recorded her version of James' song, which was released under the title "The Wallflower", and became a crossover hit, reaching number-one on the Billboard Hot 100, which angered James. After leaving the Peaches, James had another R&B hit with "Good Rockin' Daddy", but struggled with follow-ups. When her contract with Modern came up in 1960, she decided to sign with Leonard Chess' namesake label, Chess Records, and shortly afterwards got involved in a relationship with singer Harvey Fuqua, founder of the doo-wop group, The Moonglows.
 Chess years: 1960–1978
James was put on the Chess subsidiary label Argo (and later recorded with another subsidiary, Cadet) and had her first hit singles under duets with Fuqua including "If I Can't Have You" and "Spoonful". Her first solo hit was the doo-wop styled rhythm and blues number, "All I Could Do Was Cry", becoming a number-two R&B hit. Leonard Chess had envisioned James as a classic ballad stylist who had potential to cross over to the pop charts and soon surrounded the singer with violins and other string instruments. The first string-laden ballad James recorded was "My Dearest Darling", which peaked in the top five of the R&B chart. James was notable singing background vocals on label mate Chuck Berry's "Back in the USA".
Her debut album, At Last!, was released in late 1960 and was noted for its varied choice in music from jazz standards to blues numbers to doo-wop and R&B. The album also included James' future classic, "I Just Want to Make Love to You" and "A Sunday Kind of Love". In early 1961, James released what has become her signature song, "At Last", which reached number two on the R&B chart and number 47 on the Billboard Hot 100. Though the song wasn't as successful as expected, it has become the most remembered version of the song. James followed that up with "Trust in Me", which also included string instruments. Later that same year, James released a second studio album, The Second Time Around. The album took the same direction as her previous album, covering many jazz and pop standards, and using strings on many of the songs spawning two hit singles, "The Fool That I Am" and "Don't Cry Baby".
James started adding gospel elements in her music the following year releasing "Something's Got a Hold on Me", which peaked at number-four on the R&B chart and was also a top 40 pop hit. That success was quickly followed by "Stop the Wedding", which reached number six on the R&B charts and also had gospel elements. In 1963, she had another major hit with "Pushover" and released the live album, Etta James Rocks the House, which was recorded at the New Era Club in Nashville, Tennessee. After a couple years scoring minor hits, James' career started to suffer after 1965. After a period of isolation, James returned to recording in 1967 and reemerged with more ballsy R&B numbers thanks to her recording at the legendary Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama releasing her comeback hit "Tell Mama", which was co-written by Clarence Carter and reached number ten R&B and number twenty-three pop. An album of the same name was also released that year and included her take of Otis Redding's "Security". The B-side of "Tell Mama" was "I'd Rather Go Blind", which became a blues classic in its own right and was recorded by many other artists. She wrote in her autobiography Rage To Survive that she heard the song outlined by her friend Ellington "Fugi" Jordan when she visited him in prison. According to her account, she wrote the rest of the song with Jordan, but for tax reasons gave her songwriting credit to her partner at the time, Billy Foster.
Following this success, James became an on-demand concert performer though she never again reached the heyday of her early-to-mid 1960s success. She continued to chart in the R&B Top 40 in the early 1970s with singles such as "Loser Weepers" (1971) and "I Found a Love" (1972). Though James continued to record for Chess, she was devastated by the death of Chess founder Leonard Chess in 1969. James ventured into rock and funk with the release of her self-titled album in 1973 with production from famed rock producer Gabriel Mekler, who had worked with Steppenwolf and Janis Joplin, who had admired James and had covered "Tell Mama" in concert. The album, known for its mixtures of musical styles, was nominated for a Grammy Award. The album didn't produce any major hits, neither did the follow-up, Out On the Street Again, in 1974, though like Etta James before it, the album was also critically acclaimed. James continued to record for Chess releasing two more albums in 1978, Etta Is Betta Than Evah and Deep in the Night, which saw the singer incorporating more rock-based music in her repertoire. That same year, James was the opening act for The Rolling Stones and also performed at the Montreal Jazz Festival. Following this brief success, however, she left Chess Records and didn't record for another ten years as she struggled with drug addiction and alcoholism for the better part of a decade.
 Later career: 1988–2012
Though she continued to perform, little was heard of Etta James until 1987 when she was seen performing "Rock & Roll Music" with Chuck Berry on his "Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll" documentary. In 1989, James signed with Island Records and released the album, The Seven Year Itch, which was noted for bringing back the older raw sound of previous records. The album was produced by Jerry Wexler, who had worked on Deep in the Night. She released a second album in 1989 titled Stickin' to My Guns. Both albums were recorded at FAME Studios. James participated in rap singer Def Jef for the song "Droppin' Rhymes on Drums", which mixed James' jazz vocals with hip-hop. In 1992, James released The Right Time on Elektra Records and the following year, James was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. James signed with Private Music Records in 1993 and recorded the Billie Holiday tribute album, Mystery Lady: Songs of Billie Holiday. The album later set a trend for James' music to incorporate more jazz elements. The album won James her first Grammy Awards for best jazz vocal performance in 1994. In 1995, she released the David Ritz-co authored autobiography, A Rage to Survive, and recorded the album, Time After Time. Three years later she issued the Christmas album, Etta James Christmas, in 1998.
By the mid-1990s, James' earlier classic music was included in commercials including, most notably, "I Just Wanna Make Love to You". Due to exposure of the song in a UK commercial, the song reached the top ten of the UK charts in 1996. Continuing to record for Private Music, she released the blues album, Matriarch of the Blues, in 2000, which had James returning back to her R&B roots with Rolling Stone hailing it as a "solid return to roots", further stating that the album found the singer "reclaiming her throne - and defying anyone to knock her off it." In 2001, she was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, the latter for her contributions to the developments of both rock and roll music and rockabilly. In 2003, she received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Her 2004 release, Blue Gardenia, returned James to a jazz music style. James' final album for Private Music, Let's Roll, was released in 2005 and won James a Grammy for best contemporary blues album.
In 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked her #62 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. James has performed at the top world jazz festivals in the world, such as the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1977, 1989, 1990 and 1993, performed nine times at the legendary Monterey Jazz Festival, and the San Francisco Jazz Festival five times. She also performs often at free city outdoor summer arts festivals throughout the US.
In 2008, James was portrayed by Beyoncé Knowles in the film, Cadillac Records, loosely based on the rise and fall of James' label of 18 years, Chess Records, and how label founder and producer Leonard Chess helped the career of James and other label mates, though it was noted that James was successful prior to her signing with Chess Records. The film also portrayed that "At Last" was a huge pop hit upon its release but the single was only a minor charted single when it was initially released and James had bigger hits following its release. It also indicated James and Chess, who were realistically 21 years apart from each other, were lovers but that was also inaccurate. Though James and Knowles were later seen at a red carpet event following the film's release embracing each other, James expressed her displeasure with Knowles at a Seattle concert in January 2009 after Knowles sang her song, "At Last", at the first inaugural ball for Barack Obama a few days before claiming she "can't stand Beyoncé" and that Knowles would "get her ass whipped". James later said that her remarks about Knowles was a joke, but admitted she was hurt that she was not invited to sing her song and that she could've performed it better.
In April 2009, the 71-year-old James made her final television appearance performing "At Last" during an appearance on Dancing with the Stars. In May 2009, James was awarded as the Soul/Blues Female Artist of the Year by the Blues Foundation, the ninth time James had won the award. James carried on touring but by 2010 had to cancel concert dates to her gradually failing health after it was revealed that she was suffering from dementia and leukemia. In November 2011, James released her final album, The Dreamer, which was critically acclaimed upon its release. James announced via her manager's statement that this would be her final album. On 8th January 2012 her continuing relevance was affirmed when Flo Rida reached number 1 in the UK singles chart with the song "Good Feeling" that samples her song "Something's Got a Hold on Me", while Avicii's Levels also charted well globally, utilising the same sample.
 Style and influence
James's musical style changed during the course of her career. When beginning her recording career 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 has deepened and coarsened in the past ten years, moving her musical style in these later years into the genres of soul and jazz.
Etta James had once been considered one of the most overlooked blues and R&B musicians in American music history. It wasn't 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. In 2011 James was voted one the Best Singers On Earth by viewers to Btoe the multimedia website founded by Colin Larkin creator of the Encyclopedia of Popular Music. In recent years, she has been seen as bridging the gap between rhythm and blues and rock and roll. James has influenced a wide variety of American musicians including Diana Ross, Beyoncé, Janis Joplin, Bonnie Raitt, Shemekia Copeland, Christina Aguilera, and Hayley Williams of Paramore as well as British artists The Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Elkie Brooks, Amy Winehouse, Paloma Faith, Joss Stone and Adele.
 Personal life
James encountered a string of legal problems during the early 1970s due to her heroin addiction. She was continuously in and out of rehabilitation centers, including the Tarzana Rehabilitation Center, in Los Angeles, California. Her husband Artis Mills, whom she married in 1969, accepted responsibility when they were both arrested for heroin possession and served a 10-year prison sentence. He was released from prison in 1982 and is still married to James. She was also arrested around the same time for her drug addiction, accused of cashing bad checks, forgery and possession of heroin. In 1974, James was sentenced to drug treatment instead of serving time in prison. She was in the Tarzana Psychiatric Hospital for 17 months, at age 36, and went through a great struggle at the start of treatment. She later stated in her autobiography that the time she spent in the hospital changed her life. However, after leaving treatment, her substance abuse continued into the 1980s, after she developed a relationship with a man who was also using drugs. In 1988, at the age of 50, she entered the Betty Ford Center, in Palm Springs, California, for treatment. In 2010, she received treatment for a dependency on painkillers.
James had two sons, Donto and Sametto. Both started performing with their mother in 2003 – Donto on drums and Sametto on bass guitar.
 Illness and death
James was hospitalized in January 2010 to treat an infection caused by MRSA. During her hospitalization, her son Donto revealed that James had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2008, and attributed her previous comments about Beyoncé Knowles to "drug induced dementia".
On January 14, 2011, it was announced that James had been diagnosed with leukemia and was undergoing treatment. She was hospitalized in May 2011 with a urinary tract infection and the blood infection known as sepsis. On December 16, 2011, it was announced that she was under 24-hour care and is terminally ill from the cancer she has been battling throughout 2011. Her manager, Lupe De Leon, stated to the media that she is "in the final stages of leukemia", has been diagnosed with both dementia and Hepatitis C, has been placed on oxygen, is receiving constant care from her husband, and is being visited regularly by her sons. De Leon went on to say, "We're all very sad. We're just waiting..." On December 19, 2011, James's husband and sons reached a deal on managing her estate and medical care. A judge ruled that the amount of money available to Artis Mills, her husband and estate conservator, was to be $350,000 USD. On December 23, 2011, James reportedly had to be rushed to a hospital after having breathing problems and was placed on a breathing machine. On December 30, 2011, James was taken off of the machine after being able to breathe on her own. De Leon said the singer's blood pressure had also returned to normal.After nearly a month from being declared terminally ill, Etta James' longtime friend and manager on January 5, 2012 said the singer had been released from a Southern California hospital. Fifteen days later and five days before her seventy-fourth birthday, she lost her battle with leukemia and other diseases.
Since 1989, James has received over 30 awards and recognitions from eight different organisations, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences which organises the Grammys.
In 1989, the newly formed Rhythm and Blues Foundation included James in their first Pioneer Awards for artists whose "lifelong contributions have been instrumental in the development of Rhythm & Blues music". The following year, 1990, she received an NAACP Image Award, which is given for "outstanding achievements and performances of people of color in the arts"; an award she cherished as it "was coming from my own people".
- 1993, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
- 2001, Rockabilly Hall of Fame
- 2003, Hollywood Chamber of Commerce Hollywood Walk of Fame, star at 7080 Hollywood Blvd, and Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) Lifetime Achievement Award
- 2006, Billboard R&B Founders Award
James has received six Grammy Awards. Her first was in 1994, when she was awarded Best Jazz Vocal Performance for the album Mystery Lady, which consisted of covers of Billie Holiday songs. Two other albums have also won awards, Let's Roll (Best Contemporary Blues Album) in 2003, and Blues To The Bone (Best Traditional Blues Album) in 2004. Two of her early songs have been given Grammy Hall of Fame Awards for "qualitative or historical significance": "At Last", in 1999, and "The Wallflower (Dance with Me, Henry)" in 2008. In 2003, she was given the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
 Blues Foundation
The members of the Blues Foundation, a non-profit organization set up in Memphis, Tennessee to foster the blues and its heritage, have nominated James for a Blues Music Award nearly every year since its founding in 1980; and she has received some form of Blues Female Artist of the Year award 14 times since 1989, continuously from 1999 to 2007. In addition, the albums Life, Love, & The Blues (1999), Burnin' Down The House (2003), and Let's Roll (2004) were awarded Soul/Blues Album of the Year, and in 2001 she was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.
 Further reading
- Rage To Survive: The Etta James Story by Etta James and David Ritz. Da Capo Press, 1998. ISBN 0-3068-1262-2.
- Icons of R&B and Soul, Volume 1 by Bob Gulla. Greenwood Press, 2007. ISBN 0-3133-4044-7.
- ^ Etta James, David Ritz. Rage to survive: the Etta James story. Da Capo Press, 2003. p. 173. Retrieved 21 May 2011.
- ^ Liz Sonneborn (2002). A to Z of American women in the performing arts. Infobase Publishing. p. 116. Retrieved 22 May 2011.
- ^ Down Beat Magazine July 27, 2007 Etta James Hospitalized, Tour Suspended
- ^ "100 Greatest Singers of All Time". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2008-11-11.
- ^ "100 Greatest Singers of All Time". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2008-11-11.
- ^ a b Bob Gulla (2008). Icons of R&B and Soul. ABC-CLIO. p. 149. Retrieved 21 May 2011.
- ^ Denise Quan (September 25, 2002). "CNN.com - A life singing the blues". Retrieved 21 May 2011.
- ^ Etta James, David Ritz. Rage to Survive: the Etta James Story. Da Capo Press, 2003. p. 20. Retrieved 21 May 2011.
- ^ Etta James, David Ritz. Rage to Survive: the Etta James Story. Da Capo Press, 2003. p. 31. Retrieved 21 May 2011.
- ^ a b c "Etta James – inductee". Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on 2006-11-23. Retrieved 2006-12-05.
- ^ White, Charles (2003), pp. 68, 78. The Life and Times of Little Richard: The Authorised Biography. Omnibus Press.
- ^ a b c d e f g h i Dahl, Bill. "Etta James > Biography". allmusic. Retrieved 2008-12-05.
- ^ a b c d "Etta James: Biography". Rolling Stone.com. Retrieved 2008-12-05.
- ^ Cook, Stephen. "At Last! album review". allmusic. Retrieved 2008-12-05.
- ^ Unterberger, Richie. "The Second Time Around album review". allmusic. Retrieved 2008-12-05.
- ^ a b c d e f g "Etta James Biography". Musician Guide.com. Retrieved 2008-12-05.
- ^ a b c Larkin, Collin. "Etta James Biography". oldies.com. Retrieved 2008-12-05.
- ^ Etta James and David Ritz, Rage To Survive, 1995, ISBN 0-306-80812-9
- '^ "Etta James awards". Grammy.com. Retrieved 2008-12-05.
- ^ The Immortals, the First fify. 946. Rolling Stone.
- ^ Montreux Jazz Festival Database[dead link]
- ^ "Beyonce To Portray Legendary Blues Singer Etta James In 'Cadillac Records'". MTV.com. Retrieved 2008-12-05.
- ^ "Etta James to Beyonce: I'll Whoop Your Ass!". TMZ.com. Retrieved 31 January 2010.
- ^ "Etta James says rip on Beyonce was a joke". MSNBC. Retrieved 31 January 2010.
- ^ Dahl, Bill. "Tell Mama album review". allmusic. Retrieved 2008-12-08.
- ^ "Book Elkie Brooks with JazzCo". Jazzbookings.com. Retrieved 2011-01-18.
- ^ "Who is Paloma Faith?". 4Music. 2010-04-19. Retrieved 2011-01-18.
- ^ "100 Greatest Artists of all Time:Etta James". www.rollingstone.com. Retrieved 2011-01-18.
- ^ "Interview: Adele – Archive | State Magazine". State.ie. 2008-03-08. Retrieved 2011-01-18.
- ^ "How Etta Got Her Groove Back". People.com. Retrieved 2009-02-06.
- ^ "Etta James". NNDB.com. Retrieved 2008-12-05.
- ^ "Son says singer Etta James changes hospitals". USA Today. 2010-02-11. Retrieved 2010-05-02.
- ^ Thor Christensen (23 April 2004). "James pours heart, soul into set To the 'Last'". Dallas Morning News. Retrieved 29 March 2011.
- ^ "Hospitalized Etta James battling Alzheimer's, infection, son says". CNN. 2010-01-30. Retrieved 31 January 2010.
- ^ "US blues singer Etta James treated for leukaemia". BBC. 14 January 2011. Retrieved 18 January 2011.
- ^ Dobuzinskis, Alex (2011-05-13). "Etta James hospitalised with blood infection". Uk.news.yahoo.com. Retrieved 2011-07-30.
- ^ ""At Last" singer Etta James is terminally ill - Celebrity Circuit". CBS News. Retrieved 2011-12-30.
- ^ Hibberd, James (2011-12-16). "Etta James in 'final stages of leukemia' | News Briefs | EW.com". News-briefs.ew.com. Retrieved 2011-12-30.
- ^ "Court deal reached on managing Etta James' estate". newstimes.com. December 20, 2011. Retrieved December 30, 2011.
- ^ "Etta James' condition better, taken off respirator". Associated Press via USA Today. Retrieved December 30, 2011.
- ^ 
- ^ http://www.pe.com/local-news/breaking-news-headlines/20120120-riverside-media-outlets-reporting-etta-james-has-died.ece
- ^ "Rhythm & Blues Foundation - Preserving America’s Soul". Retrieved 22 May 2011.
- ^ "The 42nd NAACP Image Awards - History". Retrieved 22 May 2011.
- ^ Etta James, David Ritz. Rage to Survive: the Etta James Story. Da Capo Press, 2003. p. 256.
- ^ "Recording Academy Honors Etta James, Simon & Garfunkel, Alan Lomax | News". BMI.com. 2002-12-08. Retrieved 2011-07-30.
- ^ Up for Discussion Jump to Forums. "Billboard Honors Etta James". Billboard.com. Retrieved 2011-07-30.
- ^ a b Bob Gulla (2008). Icons of R&B and Soul. ABC-CLIO. p. 164. Retrieved 21 May 2011.
- ^ "Grammy Hall of Fame Induction". Grammy.org. Retrieved 2011-07-30.
- ^ "Grammy Hall of Fame Induction". Grammy.org. Retrieved 2011-07-30.
- ^ Greg Winter (Dec 2002). CMJ New Music Report - Music News. Retrieved 22 May 2011.
- ^ "The Blues Foundation: About The Blues Foundation". Retrieved 22 May 2011.
- ^ a b "The Blues Foundation: Past Blues Music Awards". Retrieved 22 May 2011.