Etta James - Death, Songs & Facts

Etta James is a vocalist who has won multiple Grammy Awards and is famous for her classic songs such as “I’d Rather Go Blind” and “At Last.”

Who Was Etta James?

Etta James was a child prodigy in the evangelical music world. Her move to Los Angeles in 1954 was in preparation for the recording of “The Wallflower.” By the time 1960 rolled around, her career was well on its way to taking off, thanks in no small part to songs such as “I’d Rather Go Blind” and “At Last.” Although she was still battling heroin addiction, the record she released under her name in 1973 was nominated for a Grammy Award. All the Way was her second studio album, published in 2006. James passed away on January 20, 2012, in Riverside, California, and even after his passing, he is still remembered as one of the most powerful singers in the history of music.

Early Life

James was born Jamesetta Hawkins on January 25, 1938, in Los Angeles, California. Her mother, Dorothy Hawkins, was only 14 years old at the time, and she was the one who inspired James to pursue a career in singing. In subsequent statements, James would claim, “Even though a song had been performed a thousand times before, my mother would always tell me that I could still put my spin on it and make it seem unique. I want to think I was able to accomplish that.” James was not familiar with her biological father.


James had already gained a reputation as a gospel prodigy by the time she was 5 years old. James had gained this reputation by singing in her church choir and on the radio. At age 12, she uprooted her life. She relocated to San Francisco, where she joined forces with two other musicians to form a trio and quickly found employment with bandleader Johnny Otis. Four years later, in 1954, she relocated to Los Angeles to record “The Wallflower” with the Otis band. This was a more family-friendly title for the then-racy “Roll with Me Henry.” That was the year that the young singer changed her name to Etta James (a shorter version of her first name), and that was also the year that her singing group was given the name “the Peaches,” which was also Etta’s nickname. Shortly after that, in 1955, James began her career as a solo artist by releasing singles such as “Good Rockin’ Daddy.”

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James’ career took off after signing a contract with the Chicago label Chess Records in 1960. The heartbreaking ballad “All I Could Do Was Cry,” the song “At Last,” and “Trust in Me” were among her chart-topping singles and duets with her lover at the time, Harvey Fuqua. However, James’ abilities were not limited to writing emotionally charged ballads. She was able to bring the house down with gospel-influenced songs such as “Something’s Got a Hold On Me,” which she released in 1962, “In The Basement,” which she released in 1966, and “I’d Rather Go Blind,” which she released in 1968.

Throughout the 1960s and into the early 1970s, James maintained his involvement with the Chess organization. Her heroin addiction had a negative impact not only on her personal life but also on her professional life. Nevertheless, she persisted in recording new albums despite her ongoing drug difficulties. James recorded in the Fame studios in 1967 with the Muscle Shoals house band, and the resulting album, Tell Mama, is considered one of James’s most successful works.

James’s work garnered praise from fans and music reviewers, and her album Etta James was nominated for a Grammy in 1973. The album was recognized partly for the innovative way it combined rock and funk elements. James joined Warner Brothers Records after her contract with Chess ended in 1977, and she was free to pursue other opportunities. Her performance at the opening ceremony of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles led to a rise in her profile among the general public. The subsequent albums, such as Deep In The Night and Seven Year Itch, were met with widespread acclaim from the music press.

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Before entering into a new recording contract with Private Records in 1993, James was already a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when she received the honor.

Later Career

James continued to perform and produce music long into the 1990s, drawing attention to himself with suggestive stage antics and a snarky demeanor. Her remarkable voice was displayed to great advantage on her recent private albums, including Blue Gardenia, which climbed to the top of the Billboard jazz list. Her music is known for having a soulful sound throughout. James had surgery to do a gastric bypass in 2003, and as a result, he shed more than 200 pounds. According to what she told Ebony magazine that year, her voice changed due to the drastic weight loss. James explained, saying, “I can sing lower, higher, and louder.”

In the same year, James released Let’s Roll, which became the most successful modern blues album ever and won a Grammy Award. Alongside Josh Sklair, her boys, Donto and Sametto James participated in the track’s production. James’s subsequent album, titled Blues to the Bone (2004), won her the third Grammy Award of her career, this time in the best traditional blues album category. Her team reunited for this project.

All the Way was James’s sixth studio album, released in 2006. It comprised cover versions of songs originally performed by Prince, Marvin Gaye, and James Brown. The year after that, she contributed to the album “We Love Ella,” a tribute album honoring the jazz great Ella Fitzgerald.

Controversy with Beyoncé

BeyoncĂ© Knowles, a famous singer, played the role of James Chess in the film Cadillac Records, which was released in 2008 and told the tale of the early days of the Chess Records record label. In addition, Knowles contributed her rendition of James’ hallmark song “At Last” to the movie’s soundtrack.

Although James voiced her support for the movie in public, it is said that she was upset when Knowles sang the song at President Barack Obama’s inaugural ball in January 2009. According to reports, James told concertgoers in February in Seattle that Knowles “had no business singing my song that I been singing forever.” James was unmoved by the event, which received considerable attention from the media due to her statements, and she continued with her packed performance schedule.

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Later Years and Death

James began experiencing various health problems as she approached her 70s in age. In 2010, she was admitted to the hospital for treatment of multiple conditions, one of which was a blood infection. After some time had passed, it became clear that the famed singer had been afflicted with dementia and was also undergoing treatment for leukemia. Her husband, Artis Mills, disclosed her health issues in the legal documents he submitted. Mills attempted to acquire authority over one million dollars that belonged to James, but he was greeted with opposition from James’ two sons, Donto and Sametto. After some negotiation, the two sides finally agreed.

In November 2011, James presented her most recent studio album, The Dreamer, with positive reception from critics. A few weeks later, James’ physician revealed that the singer had been diagnosed with an incurable illness. “She is in the last stages of the leukemia she was diagnosed with. In addition, she has been identified as having dementia and hepatitis C, “According to Dr. Elaine James, who is not related to the singer in any way, who spoke with a local newspaper. Etta’s sons recognized that their mother’s health was deteriorating and that she was receiving medical attention at her home in Riverside, California.

On January 20, 2012, James passed away in the comfort of her home in Riverside, California. To this day, she is still considered one of the most dynamic vocalists in music history.

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