Happy Birthday, Etta James!


Etta James (January 25th, 1938 - January 20th, 2012) was a legendary American singer who performed in the genres of jazz, gospel, blues, soul and rock'n'roll. She is remembered for her many pop hits including: At Last, Roll With Me Henry, Somethings Got A Hold On Me and I'd Rather Go Blind. James' successful career and catalog of 28 studio albums won her six Grammys and seventeen Blues Music Awards. Her life was laced with sadness as she struggled with addiction and drug abuse, but her comeback with album The Seven Year Itch in the late 1980s proved her to be one of the strongest personalities in American music and landed her in many top greatest singers of all time lists.

Etta James was born in Los Angeles to a young mother and unknown father. James lived with foster parents while referring to her mother as the "mystery lady." Her talents for singing were brought out by James Earle Hines, a musical director at the St. Paul Baptist Church in LA. After starting her vocal training at the early age of five, she continued to sing in the church choir which brought her much popularity within the community. James would also be pressured into singing on demand by her foster dad Sarge. This made James very nervous. When she was twelve, her biological mother took her to San Francisco.

Something's Got A Hold On Me (Live)



Chuck Berry & Etta James - Rock and Roll Music (film clip)

EttaJames4Etta James grew inspired by the doo-wop vocal singing style and at age fourteen she formed a small band of girls called "The Creolettes". American musician and composer Johnny Otis recognized her ambition and took the group under his wing. He suggested they rename themselves "The Peaches" and also suggested for James her stage name (her birth name was Jamesetta Hawkins). He helped James and her group sign with label Modern Records and collaborated with her on the song that would become known as Dance With Me, Henry. The success of their hit gave the group a chance to go on a nationwide tour with Little Richard.

In 1960, James' contract with Modern Records ended and she signed as a soloist with Chess Records, founded by blues legend Leonard Chess. Chess spotted James' potential to cross the boundaries of multiple musical genres and early into her contract with his label, she released All I Could Do Was Cry, which became a number two R&B hit. James released her debut album At Last later that year. The album contained songs that would continue bringing her fame and success throughout the extent of her life. They included the hits: I Just Want to Make Love to You and A Sunday Kind of Love, which ranged from jazz standards to rhythm and blues.


I'd Rather Be Blind (Live)

EttaJames2By the mid 1960s James hadincorporated more of a gospel flair into her style. Something's Got a Hold on Me and Stop the Wedding became huge hits and she released a live album that was recorded at the New Era Club in Nashville. After this period, she would become a highly renowned concert singer for many years. Etta James' hardship and struggles with drug addiction meant she disappeared from the limelight for several years as she served time in rehabilitation. However, her songs were still as popular as ever and were covered by many new artists. She reappeared in 1989 with her album Seven Year Itch and signed with industry giants Island Records. In a possible callback to her mother's nickname, James named her Billie Holliday tribute album Mystery Lady: Songs of Billie Holiday.



James received her first of six Grammys for Best Jazz Vocal Performance in 1994. Over the course of her later career, James would play at many festivals all over the country and continued to bring in awards. James was reportedly offended that Beyoncé Knowles sang her song At Last at Barack Obama's first inaugural ball. Beyoncé also played James in the 2008 film Cadillac Records.

In the year before her death, James' song Something's Got a Hold On Me was sampled by modern pop icons DJ Avicii and Flo Rida, and proved that her undying success and commitments to the musical world are as relevant as ever.



I Just Want To Make Love To You (Live)


Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Saturday, 25 January 2014
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