In mid-December Etta James' live-in doctor Dr. Elaine James confirmed that the "At Last" singer was terminally ill after a long battle with leukemia and, sadly, the legendary blues songstress died on Friday (January 20) at the age of 73.
Best known for hits like "At Last," "All I Could Do Was Cry," "Tell Mama," "Something's Got a Hold of Me" and "Good Rockin' Daddy," James learned to sing in church, and first recorded professionally as a member of the all-girl doo-wop group the Peaches, with whom she'd score a#1 hit ("The Wallflower," an answer to Hank Ballard's "Work with me, Annie"). Soon after that song's success, James left the group and toured with the likes of Little Richard and Johnny "Guitar" Watson. She'd subsequently sign with Chicago's Chess Records in 1960, where her powerful contralto was featured on a string of crossover classics that spanned R&B, soul, gospel, blues and even rock. It was during that time that she also began a battle with heroin addiction, one that would lead to stints in rehabilitation facilities and stall her career's momentum. James would continue to record for Chess until 1978, then, after a stint opening for the Rolling Stones, she'd spend the next decade largely adrift, before returning with her comeback album, 1989's Seven Year Itch, which reunited her with producer Jerry Wexler and began a period that saw her finally receive the acclaim she'd long deserved. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 and, the following year, won her first-ever Grammy award. In subsequent years, she'd also be enshrined in both the Blues and Rockabilly Halls, earn a lifetime achievement award from the Grammys and continue to record a string of well-received blues and jazz albums.
Her Chess Records period was brought to the big screen (with varying degrees of accuracy) in the 2008 musical biopic "Cadillac Records," with Beyoncé portraying James. Beyoncé's cover of "At Last" was released as the lead single off the film's soundtrack, and would go on to win a Grammy for Best Traditional R&B Performance. Beyoncé would also perform the song at president Barack Obama's inaugural ball in January 2009, a move which led James to famously tell an audience in Seattle that Bey "has no business up there singing ... my song that I've been singing forever." She'd later explain to the New York Daily News that she was joking, but added that she could've performed the song better.
In recent years, with her status secured (and her addiction problems largely behind her), James continued to tour, and she's been championed by some of today's biggest contemporary stars, like Adele, Aguilera, Florence Welch, Paramore's Hayley Williams, Joss Stone and Jazon Mraz. She was also a particular favorite of the late Amy Winehouse, whose own battles with addiction sadly turned out differently than James's. And just this year, a sample of her "Something's Got a Hold on Me" was used to maximum effect by DJ Avicii on his international hit "Levels" Thus Flo Rida's "Good Feeling".
James' health had been in decline for several years. In 2010, her son Donto told reporters that James had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and in January 2011, court documents filed by her husband — who was seeking to take control of her finances, as she was extremely ill — revealed that she was also undergoing treatment for leukemia. In December, James' live-in physician told a California newspaper that the singer was "terminally ill" and asked "for the prayers of her fans and friends." James's final album, The Dreamer, was released in November.
We will always miss that witty, soulful voice, and i truly hope a massive tribute will go down with Christina and Beyonce and others recognizing her achievements at the forthcoming Grammy's. Bye Bye Angel