Jamesetta Hawkins, known by her stage name Etta James, was born on January 25th, 1938. Being the product of a fourteen year old, James was raised by foster parents in Los Angeles, Ca. Like many talented African American singers, Etta James started her singing career in the church.
Gaining momentum in her career, in 1954, Etta James began joining groups and featuring on many records. The first song she recorded was “Roll With Me Henry” but was eventually changed to “The Wallflower: because it was seen as too explicit for the radios. “The Wallflower” went on to be the top ten on the R&B charts.
In the 1960s, James was signed to Chess Records by Leonard Chess. She was the first lady of Chess Records. Her most famous records “I’d Rather Go Blind” , “At Last”, “Something’s Got Hold On Me” , and All I Could Do Was Cry” were all recorded during her time at Chess Records. Unfortunately, due to negligence of the company many artists including Etta James were not compensated properly.
Alongside her music career, Etta James developed an addiction to drugs in the 1960s. Being addicted to heroin and cocaine, James’ career fluctuated for years. It wasn’t until the 1980s that James was able to get and stay clean.
Amidst having a successful music career and drug addiction, Etta James married Artis Mills in 1969 and gave birth to two children. Sadly, Etta James died on January 20, 2012 from leukemia and Alzheimer’s.
Social Impact, Legacy, & Achievements
Etta James was a powerhouse vocalist who used realism to her advantage. She allowed her life experiences to guide and influence her music. Her use of realism within her music showed and influenced others that being vulnerable allows for a greater connection with the audience. Through her music, she believed that she was singing of precious moments and precious life.
Etta James inspired and influenced genres (R&B and soul) and many artists (Diana Ross, Tina Turner, Beyoncé, Jennifer Hudson, and many more).
Etta James was inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame and the Blues Hall of Fame. Among that, she also won several Grammy’s and an NAACP award. Not really being highlighted, she performed At The 1984 Olympic Summer Games.
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“Etta James.” Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, www.rockhall.com/inductees/etta-james.
“Etta James – Biography, Life, Facts, Family and Songs.” Famous Singers, 2019, www.famoussingers.org/etta-james
Etta James.” Song Facts, www.songfacts.com/facts/etta-james.
Blistein, Jon. “Beyonce, Adele Pay Tribute to Etta James.” Billboard, Billboard, 13 Jan. 2013, www.billboard.com/articles/news/511139/beyonce-adele-pay-tribute-to-etta-james.