Etta James, the iconic singer whose classic songs like At Last, Something's Got a Hold on Me, and The Wallflower made her a rhythm and blues legend, is dead at age 73 after a long battle with terminal cancer.
James was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010, and she also suffered from dementia and hepatitis C. She died Friday at a hospital in Riverside, Calif.
Etta James, Music Legend
Etta James, known as Miss Peaches and The Matriarch of R&B, was a chart-topper by the time she was a teenager, taking the song The Wallflower (Roll With Me, Henry) to No. 1 on the R&B charts in 1955.
She was born Jamesetta Hawkins in Los Angeles to a teenaged mother and an unknown father. She always suspected her father might be pool player Minnesota Fats.
In 1950, her mother took her to San Francisco, where James founded a group called the Peaches and was discovered by singer Johnny Otis. After she joined Chess Records in 1960, James became known for her R&B and pop hits, notable for their instrumentals and for her soulful and her voice's rough velvet sound. Songs like Stormy Weather, At Last and Rather Go Blind made her a legend to rival Ella Fitzergerald and Aretha Franklin.
Struggle With Heroin Addiction
But as she went on to cross genres and break records, netting six Grammys and being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Etta James also struggled with heroin addiction.
In the mid-60s, when the British Invasion caused blues and R&B to slip in the charts. James' pop hits began to slip with Beatle Mania's takeover, and by the 1970s she had entered rehab for her addictions.
After another stint in addiction recovery, this time at the Betty Forc Clinic, James re-appeared on the music scene. After several lauded live performances, James released a comeback album, Seven Year Itch, in 1988.
She never quite got herself back to the star status she had in her early years, but she was on her way to becoming something greater: an icon. And the singer, whose songs spanned blues, R&B, rock and roll, pop, soul and gospel, maintained a positive attitude throughout all her struggles with addiction and poor sales.
Most of the songs I sing, they have that blue feeling to it. They have that sorry feeling. And I don't know what I'm sorry about, she told CNN's Denise Quan back in 2002. I don't!
That optimism was accompanied by a spitfire attitude that made her beloved to her contemporaries and to modern-day hit singers like Adele. It also made her a feisty and at times unruly employee.
Etta James is unmanageable, and I'm the closest thing she's ever had to a manager, Lupe DeLeon, who worked with her for thirty years, once said. He meant it as a compliment.
'I gotta do something.'
James was portrayed by pop star Beyonce in the 2008 film Cadillac Records. In recent years, James' health has caused her family to begin a controversial battle over her estate, and the singer's doctor urged fans to pray for the dying legend.
But the singer herself, even as she faced a slew of health problems in her final years, continued to tour and speak with publications and up-and-coming artists.
They said that Etta James is still vulgar, she said in 2002, remarking on her fiery stage presence. In recent years, James often had to perform while sitting due to her illness. I said, 'Oh, how dare 'em say I'm still real vulgar! I'm vulgar because I dance in the chair?'
What would they want me to do? she finished. Want me to just be still or something like that?
I gotta do something.