Etta James(American singer)
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Biography Etta James
Etta James (born Jamesetta Hawkins; January 25, 1938 - January 20, 2012) was an American singer whose style spanned a variety of music genres including blues, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, soul, gospel and jazz. Starting her career in the mid-1950s, she gained fame with hits such as "Dance With Me, Henry", "At Last", "Tell Mama", and "I'd Rather Go Blind" for which she claimed she wrote the lyrics. She faced a number of personal problems, including drug addiction, before making a musical resurgence in the late 1980s with the album The Seven Year Itch.
James is regarded as having bridged the gap between rhythm and blues and rock and roll, and is the winner of six Grammys and 17 Blues Music Awards. She was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, the Blues Hall of Fame in 2001, and the Grammy Hall of Fame in both 1999 and 2008.
Jamesetta Hawkins was born on January 25, 1938, in Los Angeles, California, to Dorothy Hawkins, who was only 14 at the time. Her father has never been identified, but was rumored possibly to be white (Caucasian). James speculated that her father was the pool player, Rudolf "Minnesota Fats" Wanderone, and met him briefly in 1987. Due to her mother being often absent carrying on relationships with various men, James lived with a series of caregivers, most notably "Sarge" and "Mama" Lu. James called her mother "the Mystery Lady".
James received her first professional vocal training at the age of five from James Earle Hines, musical director of the Echoes of Eden choir, at the St. Paul Baptist Church in Los Angeles. She became a popular singing attraction at the church, and Sarge tried to pressure the church into paying him money for her singing, but they refused. During drunken poker games at home, he would wake James up in the early hours of the morning and force her through beatings to sing for his friends. As she was a bed-wetter, and often soaked with her own urine on these occasions, the trauma of being forced to sing meant she had a life-long reluctance to sing on demand.
In 1950 Mama Lu died, and James' real mother took her to the Fillmore district in San Francisco. Within a couple of years, James began listening to doo-wop and was inspired to form a girl group, called the Creolettes (due to the members' light skinned complexions). The 14-year-old girls met musician Johnny Otis. Otis took the group under his wing, helping them sign to Modern Records and changing their name from the Creolettes to the Peaches and gave the singer her stage name reversing Jamesetta into Etta James.
James recorded the version, which she was allowed to co-author, in 1954, and the song was released in early 1955 as "Dance with Me, Henry". Originally the name of the song was "Roll With Me, Henry" but was changed to avoid censorship due to the subtle title. In February of that year, the song reached number one on the Hot Rhythm & Blues Tracks chart. Its success gave the group an opening spot on Little Richard's national tour.
While on tour with Richard, pop singer Georgia Gibbs recorded her version of James' song, which was released under the title "The Wallflower", and became a crossover hit, reaching number one on the Billboard Hot 100, which angered James. After leaving the Peaches, James had another R&B hit with "Good Rockin' Daddy", but struggled with follow-ups. When her contract with Modern came up in 1960, she decided to sign with Leonard Chess' namesake label, Chess Records, and shortly afterwards got involved in a relationship with singer Harvey Fuqua, founder of the doo-wop group, The Moonglows.
James was recorded for the Chess subsidiary label Argo (later Cadet) and had her first hit singles under duets with Fuqua including "If I Can't Have You" and "Spoonful". Her first solo hit was the doo-wop styled rhythm and blues number, "All I Could Do Was Cry", becoming a number two R&B hit. Leonard Chess had envisioned James as a classic ballad stylist who had potential to cross over to the pop charts and soon surrounded the singer with violins and other string instruments. The first string-laden ballad James recorded was "My Dearest Darling", which peaked in the top five of the R&B chart. James was notable singing background vocals on label mate Chuck Berry's "Back in the USA".
Her debut album, At Last!, was released in late 1960 and was noted for its varied choice in music from jazz standards to blues numbers to doo-wop and rhythm and blues (R&B). In early 1961, James released what was to become her signature song, "At Last", which reached number two on the R&B chart and number 47 on the Billboard Hot 100.
James started adding gospel elements in her music the following year releasing "Something's Got a Hold on Me", which peaked at number four on the R&B chart and was also a top 40 pop hit. That success was quickly followed by "Stop the Wedding", which reached number six on the R&B charts and also had gospel elements.
Following this success, James became an on-demand concert performer though she never again reached the heyday of her early-to-mid 1960s success. She continued to chart in the R&B Top 40 in the early 1970s with singles such as "Losers Weepers" (1970) and "I Found a Love" (1972).
James ventured into rock and funk with the release of her self-titled album in 1973 with production from famed rock producer Gabriel Mekler, who had worked with Steppenwolf and Janis Joplin, who had admired James and had covered "Tell Mama" in concert. The album, known for its mixtures of musical styles, was nominated for a Grammy Award. The album didn't produce any major hits, neither did the follow-up, Out On the Street Again, in 1974, though like Etta James before it, the album was also critically acclaimed. James continued to record for Chess releasing two more albums in 1978, Etta Is Betta Than Evah and Deep in the Night, which saw the singer incorporating more rock-based music in her repertoire. That same year, James was the opening act for The Rolling Stones and also performed at the Montreal Jazz Festival. Following this brief success, however, she left Chess Records and didn't record for another ten years as she struggled with drug addiction and alcoholism for the better part of a decade.
Though she continued to perform, little was heard of Etta James until 1987 when she was seen performing "Rock & Roll Music" with Chuck Berry on his "Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll" documentary. In 1989, James signed with Island Records and released the album Seven Year Itch. The album was produced by Barry Beckett. She released a second album, also produced by Barry Beckett, in 1989 titled Stickin' to My Guns. Both albums were recorded at FAME Studios.
By the mid-1990s, James' earlier classic music was included in commercials including, most notably, "I Just Wanna Make Love to You". Due to exposure of the song in a UK commercial, the song reached the top ten of the UK charts in 1996. Continuing to record for Private Music, she released the blues album Matriarch of the Blues in 2000, which had James returning to her R&B roots with Rolling Stone hailing it as a "solid return to roots", further stating that the album found the singer "reclaiming her throne - and defying anyone to knock her off it." In 2001, she was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, the latter for her contributions to the developments of both rock and roll music and rockabilly. In 2003, she received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Her 2004 release, Blue Gardenia, returned James to a jazz music style. James' final album for Private Music, Let's Roll, was released in 2005 and won James a Grammy for best contemporary blues album.
James has performed at the top world jazz festivals in the world, such as the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1977, 1989, 1990 and 1993, performed nine times at the legendary Monterey Jazz Festival, and the San Francisco Jazz Festival five times. James also often performed at free city outdoor summer arts festivals throughout the United States.
In April 2009, the 71-year-old James made her final television appearance performing "At Last" during an appearance on Dancing with the Stars. In May 2009, James received the Soul/Blues Female Artist of the Year award from the Blues Foundation, the ninth time James had won the award. James carried on touring but by 2010 had to cancel concert dates due to her gradually failing health after it was revealed that she was suffering from dementia and leukemia. In November 2011, James released her final album, The Dreamer, which was critically acclaimed upon its release. James announced via her manager's statement that this would be her final album.
James was hospitalized in January 2010 to treat an infection caused by MRSA, a bacterium that is resistant to most antibiotic treatment. During her hospitalization, her son Donto revealed that James had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2008.
She was diagnosed with leukemia in early 2011. The illness became terminal and she died on January 20, 2012, just five days before her 74th birthday, at Riverside Community Hospital in Riverside, California. The funeral, presided by Reverend Al Sharpton, took place in Gardena, California on January 28, 2012. Singers Stevie Wonder and Christina Aguilera each gave a musical tribute.
James encountered a string of legal problems during the early 1970s due to her heroin addiction. She was continuously in and out of rehabilitation centers, including the Tarzana Rehabilitation Center, in Los Angeles, California. Her husband Artis Mills, whom she married in 1969, accepted responsibility when they were both arrested for heroin possession and served a 10-year prison sentence. He was released from prison in 1982 and was still married to James at her death. She was also arrested around the same time for her drug addiction, accused of cashing bad checks, forgery and possession of heroin. In 1974, James was sentenced to drug treatment instead of serving time in prison. She was in the Tarzana Psychiatric Hospital for 17 months, at age 36, and went through a great struggle at the start of treatment. She later stated in her autobiography that the time she spent in the hospital changed her life. However, after leaving treatment, her substance abuse continued into the 1980s, after she developed a relationship with a man who was also using drugs. In 1988, at the age of 50, she entered the Betty Ford Center, in Palm Springs, California, for treatment. In 2010, she received treatment for a dependency on painkillers.
James had two sons, Donto and Sametto. Both started performing with their mother in 2003-Donto on drums and Sametto on bass guitar.
From 1989, James received over 30 awards and recognitions from eight different organizations, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences which organizes the Grammys.
In 1989, the newly formed Rhythm and Blues Foundation included James in their first Pioneer Awards for artists whose "lifelong contributions have been instrumental in the development of Rhythm & Blues music". The following year, 1990, she received an NAACP Image Award, which is given for "outstanding achievements and performances of people of color in the arts"; an award she cherished as it "was coming from my own people".
- 1993, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
- 2001, Rockabilly Hall of Fame
- 2003, Hollywood Chamber of Commerce Hollywood Walk of Fame, star at 7080 Hollywood Blvd, and Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) Lifetime Achievement Award
- 2006, Billboard R&B Founders Award
The Grammy Awards are awarded annually by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. James has received six Grammy Awards. Her first was in 1994, when she was awarded Best Jazz Vocal Performance for the album Mystery Lady, which consisted of covers of Billie Holiday songs. Two other albums have also won awards, Let's Roll (Best Contemporary Blues Album) in 2003, and Blues to the Bone (Best Traditional Blues Album) in 2004. Two of her early songs have been given Grammy Hall of Fame Awards for "qualitative or historical significance": "At Last", in 1999, and "The Wallflower (Dance with Me, Henry)" in 2008. In 2003, she was given the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
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