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Etta James Has Died

She was an iconic figure played out on the movie screen in Cadillac Records by Beyonce.  Yet, she was so much more than that.  Born Jamesetta Hawkins to an unwed 14-year-old mother in Los Angeles in 1938, James began singing in church as a child, and by age twelve had moved to San Francisco, where she formed a doo-wop trio called the Creolettes.

2009 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Presented By Shell - Day 3
Etta James-Getty Images

Returning to L.A. in 1954, she rechristened the group the Peaches, changed her own name to Etta James, and professionally recorded her first song,”The Wallflower”.  By the way, sadly enough Johnny Otis, the man who discovered her and wrote “The Wallflower” pass this passed Tuesday.  He was 90. Our condolences to his family and friends.  He was quite a legend in his own right.

Back to Mrs. Etta, once the world heard that song, a star was born.  She would then go on the spend 18 years at Chicago’s Chess Records, partly documented in the 2008 film Cadillac Records, in which Beyoncé famously played the singer.  This time period led to James’ most fertile period commercially,but coincided with her increasingly heavy use of heroin and alcohol.

Etta James
Etta James-Getty Images

It was at Chess that she released hits like “Trust In Me,” “Something’s Got a Hold On Me,” and her signature mega hit, “At Last”.  Throughout her career, James overcame a heroin addiction, opened for the Rolling Stones, won six Grammys and was voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Despite her ups and downs — including a number of health problems — she maintained an optimistic attitude.

The powerhouse legend died from complications from leukemia with her husband of more than 40 years, Artis Mills, and her sons by her side, De Leon said.  She was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010, and also suffered from dementia and hepatitis C. James died at a hospital in Riverside, California.

Ironically, Etta would have turned 74 next Wednesday on the 25th.  She will be missed beyond measure.  Our heartfelt condolences go out to her family, friends and fans.

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