Etta James, the legendary rhythm and blues singer, passed today at the age of 73. The cause was complications from leukaemia.
Etta James was born Jamesetta Hawkins in Los Angeles, California on 25 January 1938. Her mother was only 14 when Miss James was born. During her early years she was raised by foster parents. Etta James started singing early, at age five in church. At the age of 12 she moved with her mother to San Francisco. As a teenager she switched from the Gospel music she sang in church to rhythm and blues.
She was only 15 years old when she recorded her first song and had her first hit. "Roll Me with Me, Henry (also known by its bowdlerised title, "Dance with Me, Henry") topped the rhythm and blues charts for four weeks. She had a follow up hit with "Good Rockin' Daddy," which went to number 6 on the rhythm and blues chart in 1955. Miss James would not have another hit until she signed with the legendary Chess label in 1959. That hit was "If I Can't Have You" with Henry Fuqua.
In 1960 "If I Can't Have You" was followed by the hits "Spoonful," "All I Could Do Is Cry," and "My Dearest Darling." It was in 1961 that she had a hit with what many consider her signature song, "At Last." "At Last" hit number two on the rhythm and blues chart, but only went to number 47 on the Billboard Hot 100. Despite its poor showing on the Hot 100 chart, the song would grow in popularity until Miss James' version became the quintessential one and her most popular song. She would have further hits with '"Trust in Me," "Something's Got a Hold of Me," and "Pushover."
After "Loving You More Every Day" was released in 1964, Miss James' career would go into a lull and she would have no further hits until "Tell Mama" in 1967. Miss James had further hits with "Security," "Almost Persuaded," and "Losers, Weepers (Part 1)." "I Found a Love" was her last major hit, released in 1972.The 1980 album Changes would be her last for nine years as she fought both alcoholism and drug addiction. Following Seven Year Itch in 1980 she would release several more albums until her final album, The Dreamer released in November 2011.
While many of Etta James' songs would fail to cross over from the rhythm and blues charts to the Billboard Hot 100, her songs have proven to have a lasting success that some of her more successful contemporaries would not. Much of the reason was her incredible voice, which could deliver emotion more powerfully than most any other singer. Another reason was that Miss James was very versatile as a singer. She started her career singing doo wop. During her years with chess she tended more towards ballads. In her later years she gravitated more towards jazz. In fact, even though Miss James has often been classed as a rhythm and blues singer, she is actually difficult to classify to one single genre. Etta James performed everything from traditional rhythm and blues to doo wop to rock 'n' roll to soul. She was a one of a kind talent who could perform almost anything.