Etta James, a fabulous singer who combined blues, gospel and R&B and emerged as a major star in the ’50s and ’60s, has died after a long battle with leukemia. She was 73.
Best known for her 1961 version of ‘At Last,’ Etta James enjoyed a remarkable career that spanned more than a half-century. Her string of hits began with 1955’s ‘The Wallflower (Dance With Me, Henry)’ and continued with such classics as ‘Spoonful,’ ‘Something’s Got a Hold on Me’ and ‘Tell Mama.’ Over the years, she won six Grammy awards, and in 1993, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Born Jamesetta Hawkins to a 14-year-old mother on Jan. 25, 1938, James grew up in Los Angeles without ever knowing her father. She spent most of her early life in the care of friends and relatives, among them her grandparents, who took her to Baptist church. She soon joined the choir, and in later years, after she’d moved in with her mother in San Francisco — and begun to dabble in juvenile delinquency, she formed a singing group called the Creolettes. She eventually went solo and signed with Chess Records, the label that would bring the singer her greatest fame.
A major influence on generations of singers, James placed No. 62 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the greatest artists of all time. The legendary record producer Jerry Wexler once called her “the greatest of all modern blues singers … the undisputed Earth Mother.”