Etta James

Etta James (born January 25, 1938) is an American R&B and gospel singer. Born Jamesetta Hawkins in Los Angeles, California, she received her first professional vocal training at the age of 5, from James Earle Hines, musical director of the Echoes of Eden choir at St. Paul Baptist Church in Los Angeles. Her family moved to San Francisco, California in 1950, and in 1952 the trio (the Creolettes) she had formed with two of her friends came to the attention of Johnny Otis. Otis reversed the syllables of her first name to give her her stage name and began recording her. Her first record, and her first R & B hit, was her own composition, "The Wallflower," an answer song to Hank Ballard's "Work with Me, Annie." She recorded it in 1954 with the Otis band and Richard Berry, who sang the second vocal. The song was later a hit in the white market for Georgia Gibbs, re-written as "Dance with Me, Henry." She briefly recorded as Etta James & the Peaches, releasing several hits before signing to Chess Records in 1960.

James released several duets with Harvey Fuqua (of The Moonglows) that became major R&B hits, as well as her classic "At Last." However, her mainstream success was limited. In 1967, James recorded "Tell Mama" and "I'd Rather Go Blind", with "At Last" perhaps her most enduring songs, in Muscle Shoals. Her singing is characterized by accomplished vocal technique and strong jazz influences. She won the Grammy for best jazz vocal in 1994 for her CD Mystery Lady, a collection of songs associated with Billie Holliday. In 2003 she received a Grammy for lifetime achievement.

Drug-related and romantic problems interfered with her career, but James managed to maintain a career throughout the latter half of the 20th century and was inducted into both the Rock and Roll and Blues Halls of Fame. In 2003 she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.


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