Etta James the ball of fire and Queen of Hard Soul has passed away. She was 73. The following is her obit from the San Francisco Chronicle. It is about the best summation of her life and I won’t try to add anything further.
Etta James, a Grammy Award-winning singer whose forceful renditions of "At Last," "I'd Rather Go Blind," "Tell Mama" and "Something's Got a Hold on Me" made her a widely admired musical interpreter of love and pain and one of the first rhythm and blues singers with a large mainstream following, died Friday at a hospital in Riverside. She was 73.
She died from complications of leukemia, with her husband and sons at her side, her manager, Lupe De Leon, told the Associated Press.
Ms. James attracted a broad following in the 1960s with her interpretations of jazz-inflected pop. Many of her songs, especially her 1961 string-backed version of the big-band-era pop standard "At Last," are frequently heard on film and television soundtracks.
She influenced later generations of singers from Janis Joplin to Bonnie Raitt, who called her "the bridge between R&B, blues and pop singing. ... Like Ray Charles, Etta brought the passion of gospel, R&B and gutbucket raw soul music into the mainstream in a way that very few people have ever crossed over."
She made more than 40 albums and received the 1994 Grammy for best jazz vocal performance for "Mystery Lady: Songs of Billie Holiday." She also experimented with rock music and was the opening act for the Rolling Stones in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Foremost she saw herself as a blues musician. In her 1995 autobiography, "Rage to Survive," she wrote, "No matter how pop or schmaltzy a song, I can't help but put a gospel and blues hurting on it."
She often made a connection between her music and her anguished life, which included heroin addiction, drastic weight fluctuations and a troubled childhood. She had been born to a 14-year-old single mother with a rebellious streak and once wrote that if her mother was going to be bad, "I was going to be superbad."
Ms. James smoked marijuana, snorted cocaine and shot heroin. She associated with gangsters and pimps. She was arrested for forging prescriptions and writing bad checks. When not in jail, she said she was involved with abusive men, some of whom nearly beat her to death.
She said the Betty Ford clinic weaned her off drugs in the late 1980s; her cocaine habit began while on tour with the Stones, she said. But even during the worst of times, she recorded well-received albums, and reviewers noted how her personal turmoil seemed to enhance her performing talent.
She was born Jamesetta Hawkins on Jan. 25, 1938, in Los Angeles. For years, she insisted her father was pool shark Minnesota Fats, a habitue of L.A.'s Central Avenue jazz clubs. Her paternity never was resolved, even after she confronted the pool hustler in his Nashville apartment in 1987.
She was raised by her mother's landlady, a woman named Mama Lu, who took her to a local Baptist church where she fell in love with singing. When Mama Lu died in 1950, James lived with relatives in San Francisco but was largely unsupervised.
"I went from being this nice little church girl to living in a rooming house," she told the Los Angeles Times. "I just turned incorrigible, drinkin' wine, smokin' weed and running the streets."
Ms. James hung out in gangs and began singing on the street in a cappella groups. One of them, the Peaches, provided her with her lifelong nickname "Miss Peaches."
In the early 1950s, she met bandleader and promoter Johnny Otis, who rechristened her by a simple flip of her first name. He guided her early career, leading to her first rhythm and blues hit, "Roll With Me, Henry" (1955). The tune, which she wrote, was a suggestive musical reply to Hank Ballard and the Midnighters' "Work With Me, Annie."
(Otis died Tuesday at age 90 at his home in the Los Angeles suburb of Altadena.)
Ms. James toured with Little Richard and Bo Diddley and was a frequent performer on the black theater circuit. In 1960, she joined a major label for blues artists, Chicago-based Chess Records, and by the end of the decade began earning favorable comparisons with Aretha Franklin.
Ms. James' more recent albums included "Time After Time" (1995), "Heart of a Woman" (1999) and "Blue Gardenia" (2001). She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 and the Blues Foundation's Blues Hall of Fame in 2001.
Survivors include her husband, Artis Mills, whom she married in 1969, and two sons from previous relationships.
To help her into the next world I share her 1995 album of jazz standards Time After Time. Her rough voice is buoyed by wonderful and sympathetic accompanists and while Etta is probably best loved for her fierce live R&B shows and albums, this is a nice detour.
Bon voyage, Etta. We’ll miss you.
01 Don't Go To Strangers
02 Teach Me Tonight
03 Love Is Here To Stay
04 The Nearness Of You
05 Time After Time
06 My Funny Valentine
07 Ev'rybody's Somebody's Fool
08 Fool That I Am
09 Willow Weep For Me
11 Night And Day
12 Someone To Watch Over Me