Today’s WOD is American blues, soul, R&B, rock and roll, gospel, and jazz singer. Etta James. Jamesetta Hawkins was born January 25, 1938 in Los Angeles, to Dorothy Hawkins, who was 14 years old at the time, and an unknown father, who was possibly white. James speculated that her father was the pool player, Rudolf "Minnesota Fats" Wanderone, and met him briefly in 1987. The young James was brought up by a series of caregivers, initially the owners of the boarding house where she lived, "Sarge" and "Mama" Lu, as her flirtatious mother spent little time at home raising her daughter, and was nicknamed by James, "the Mystery Lady".
As a child, Etta was a gospel prodigy, singing in
her church choir and on the radio at the age of five. When she turned
twelve, she moved north to San Francisco where she formed a trio and was
soon working for bandleader Johnny Otis.
In 1954, she moved to Los
Angeles to record "The Wallflower" (a tamer title for the then-risqué
"Roll with Me Henry") with the Otis band. It was that year that the
young singer became Etta James (an inverted version of her first name)
and her vocal group was dubbed The Peaches (also Etta's nickname). Soon
after, James launched her solo career with such hits as "Good Rockin'
Daddy" in 1955.
After signing with Chicago's Chess Records in 1960,
James' career began to soar. Chart toppers included duets with
then-boyfriend Harvey Fuqua, the heart-breaking ballad "All I Could Do
Was Cry," "At Last" and "Trust in Me." But James' talents weren't
reserved for powerful ballads. She knew how to rock a house, and did so
with such gospel-charged tunes as "Something's Got a Hold On Me" in 1962
and "In The Basement" in 1966. James continued to work with Chess
throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. Sadly, heroin addiction affected
both her personal and professional life, but in 1967 Chess took her to
the Fame studios to record with the Muscle Shoals house band. The
collaboration resulted in the triumphant Tell Mama album.
her continued drug problems, she earned a Grammy nomination for her 1973
album Etta James. After completing her contract with Chess in 1977,
James signed on with Warner Brothers Records. A renewed public profile
followed her appearance at the opening ceremony of the Los Angeles
Olympics in 1984. Subsequent albums, including Deep In The Night and
Seven Year Itch received critical acclaim. She was inducted into the
Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1993, prior to her signing a new recording
contract with Private Records.
With suggestive stage antics and a
sassy attitude, James continued to perform and record well into the
1990s. Always soulful, her extraordinary voice has been showcased to
great effect on her recent private releases, including Blue Gardenia,
which rose to the top of the Billboard jazz chart. In 2003, James
underwent gastric bypass surgery and lost over 200 pounds. The dramatic
weight loss had an impact on her voice, as she told Ebony magazine that
year. "I can sing lower, higher and louder," James explained.
same year, Etta James released Let's Roll, which won the Grammy Award
for Best Contemporary Blues Album. Her sons, Donto and Sametto James
served as producers on the recording along with Josh Sklair. This team
regrouped for her next effort, Blues to the Bone (2004), which brought
James her third Grammy Award—this time in the Best Traditional Blues
Album category. In 2006, James released the album All the Way, which
featured cover versions of songs by Prince, Marvin Gaye, and James
Brown. She participated in a tribute album the following year for jazz
great Ella Fitzgerald called We Love Ella.
The story of the early
days of Chess Records was brought to the big screen as Cadillac Records
in 2008, with singer Beyoncè Knowles playing Etta James in the film.
Beyoncè also recorded her own version of James's signature song, "At
Last" for the soundtrack.
While James publicly supported the film,
she was reportedly miffed when Beyoncè sang the song at President Barack
Obama's inaugural ball in January 2009. James allegedly told
concert-goers in Seattle in February that Beyoncè "had no business ...
singing my song that I been singing forever." Despite some media
attention over her comments, James was unfazed by the incident and
pressed on with her busy performing schedule.
Now in her 70s, Etta James is considered one of the most dynamic singers in music today.
On January 14, 2011, it was announced that James had been diagnosed
with leukemia and was undergoing treatment. In May 2011, she was
hospitalized 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