Grammy-award winning singer Etta James dies at 73 after battle with leukaemia
Sad loss: Etta James, pictured in 2008, died today, aged 73
Blues singer Etta James has died at 73 after a battle with leukaemia.
James, who also suffered from dementia and hepatitis C, died at a hospital in Riverside, California, according to her longtime friend and manager, Lupe De Leon.
Her husband, Artis Mills, and her sons Donto and Sametto were by her side.
'This is a tremendous loss for the
family, her friends and fans around the world,' De Leon told CNN.
'She was a
true original who could sing it all – her music defied category.
'I worked with Etta for over 30 years. She was my friend and I will miss her always.'
The iconic entertainer had been battling poor heath in recent months and died just shy of her 74th birthday.
James's doctor recently announced that she has been diagnosed with terminal leukaemia.
The Grammy-winner and Rock-and-Roll
Hall of Fame member was also suffering from dementia. She has been
receiving mostly at-home care.
Elaine James, who isn't a relation, has cared for at her Riverside, California home since March 2010.
Last month Elaine asked for fans to pray for the star.
The iconic musical figure has six Grammy Awards to her credit.
hits include The Wallflower, Something's Got a Hold on me and the
iconic 1961 number At Last, which has become a favourite at weddings.
President Obama and the first
lady famously danced to a version of the song sung by Beyonce at his inauguration ball.
Away from the music, the
platinum blonde was known as a hell-raiser who had tempestuous relationships with
her family, her men and the music industry.
Then she spent years
battling a drug addiction that she admitted sapped away at her great
talents, giving her a reputation as one of music's original bad girls.
Singing the blues: James appeared relaxed as she sang at the 2009 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in New Orleans back in 2009
'The bad girls had the look that I liked,' she wrote in her 1995
autobiography, Rage to Survive. 'I wanted to be rare, I wanted to be
noticed, I wanted to be exotic as a Cotton Club chorus girl, and I
wanted to be obvious as the most flamboyant hooker on the street. I just
wanted to be.'
Despite the reputation she cultivated, she would always be remembered
best for At Last.
The jazz-inflected rendition wasn't the original,
but it would become the most famous and the song that would define her
as a legendary singer.
But the tender song belied the turmoil in her personal life.
James was born Jamesette Hawkins in Los Angeles on January 25 1938 to a mother whom she
variously described as a scam artist, a substance abuser and a fleeting presence
during her youth.
She never knew her father, although she was told and
had believed, that he was the famous billiards player Minnesota Fats.
In her heyday: Etta James pictured around 1970 singing with her distinctive and powerful voice
Powerhouse: Etta James, who shot to fame in the 1950s and 1960s, won six Grammy awards in her lifetime
neither confirmed nor denied it: when they met, he simply told her: 'I
don't remember everything. I wish I did, but I don't.'
She was brought up in the Christian faith by foster parents Lula and Jesse Rogers, and as a young girl, her voice stood out in the church
James impressed with her solo singing in the choir and became so well known, she
said that Hollywood stars would come to see her perform.
But she wouldn't stay a gospel singer for long. Rhythm and blues lured
her away from the church, and she found herself drawn to the grittiness
of the music.
'My mother always wanted me to be a jazz singer, but I always wanted to be raunchy,' she recalled in her book.
After bandleader Johnny Otis discovered her singing with a group of girlfriends in the early 1950s, he told James to get her mother's permission to
accompany him to Los Angeles to make a recording.
Rise to fame: After a difficult childhood where she was brought up by foster parents, James, pictured in 1961 was discovered by band leader Johnny Otis
The old to the new: Beyonce and James pictured in 2008 at the film premiere of Cadillac Records which saw Beyonce play the legendary singer
After changing her name to Etta James, she had a hit with Dance With Me Henry and toured with Otis's band.
In 1959, she signed with Chicago's legendary Chess
label, began cranking out the hits and going on tours with performers
such as Bobby Vinton, Little Richard, Gene Vincent, Jerry
Lee Lewis and the Everly Brothers.
'We would travel on four buses to all the big auditoriums. And we had a lot of fun,' she recalled in 1987.
recorded a string of hits in the late 1950s and 1960s including Trust
In Me, Something's Got a Hold On Me, Sunday Kind of Love, All I Could Do
Was Cry, and of course, At Last.
In 1967, she made one of the most highly regarded soul albums of all
Tell Mama was an earthy fusion of rock and gospel music featuring
blistering horn arrangements, funky rhythms and a church-style chorus.
Her professional success, however, was balanced against her personal demons, namely a drug addiction.
'I was trying to be cool,' she told the AP in 1995, explaining what had led her to try heroin.
hung out in Harlem and saw Miles Davis and all the jazz cats,' she
added. 'At one time, my heavy role models were all druggies.
Holiday sang so groovy. Is that because she's on drugs It was in my
mind as a young person. I probably thought I was a young Billie Holiday,
doing whatever came with that.'
She was addicted to the drug for years, and it led to
a harrowing existence that included time behind bars. It sapped her
singing abilities, her money and eventually, almost destroyed her
It would take
her at least two decades to beat her drug problem. Her
husband, Artis Mills, even went to prison for ten years in 1972, when
both he and James were arrested on drugs charges – taking full
responsibility for both of them.
Family affair: James (centre) with (l-r) son Donto James, husband Artis Mills, grandchildren Karissa and Daviano, daughter-in-law Christy andson Donto James at her Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony back in 2003
'My management was suffering. My career was in the toilet. People tried
to help, but I was hell-bent on getting high,' she wrote of her drug
habit in 1980.
She finally quit the habit and in 1984, she was tapped to sing
the national anthem at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles, and her career
got the resurgent boost it needed, though she fought addiction again
when she got hooked on painkillers in the late 1980s.
Drug addiction wasn't her only problem. She struggled with her weight,
and often performed from a wheelchair as she got older and heavier. In
the early 2000s, she had weight-loss surgery and shed around 200 pounds.
Back in 2008, Beyonce played the star in Cadillac Records, a big-screen
retelling of Chess Records's heyday, with James making an appearance alongside the young pretender at the film's premiere.
James was inducted into the
Rock Hall in 1993, and her six Grammy awards included a 2003 gong for lifetime achievement.
Tribute: Rihanna tweeted in tribute to the late legendary singer after hearing news of her death today
Singing prowess: Bryan Adams tweeted his tribute to Etta James's iconic vocal talents
She was also awarded a star on the
Hollywood Walk of Fame back in 2003 and was accompanied by her husbands, sons and grandchildren to the ceremony.
Her health went into decline, however, and by 2011, she was being cared for at home by a personal doctor.
She suffered from dementia, kidney problems and leukaemia and in December 2011, her personal physician announced
that her leukaemia was terminal.
James influenced American musicians like Diana Ross, Janis Joplin and Christina Aguilera.
She has also made her mark on British artists like The Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Amy Winehouse, Joss Stone and Adele.
Today, several prominent figures from the entertainment world paid tribute to the iconic singer.
One of a kind: Kelly Rowland described James's talent as incredible in her tweet today
Giving thanks: Jessica Alba tweeted that the late singer was one of her all time favourites
Rihanna tweeted: '#DearEtta may you rest in peace.'
former Destiny's Child bandmate Kelly Rowland tweeted: 'CLASSIC. ONE OF
A KIND. PURE SOUL. ETTA JAMES! Thank You for gracing us with your
incredible talent & presence!'
Bryan Adams wrote on his Twitter: 'Etta James…one of the best voices of all time…RIP'
And there were also tributes from the world of movies and television.
Alba wrote: 'RIP #EttaJames u r a legend and 1 of my all time favs
-thank you for giving us all the gift of song -what a voice!'
Kirstie Alley wrote: 'At last my love has come along…my lonely days are over….RIP Etta James.