Saturday, January 21, 2012

at 1:40 AM Labels: ,

Legendary Blues singer passes away

Etta James, the singer who made “At Last” a classic and became one of the last survivors from early rock ‘n’ roll’s pantheon of soaring divas, died Friday at her home in Riverside, Calif., her manager said. She was 73.

She had been battling leukemia and dementia. Her final stage performances came in early 2010.


Over a 50-year career, James won four Grammy Awards and 17 Blues Music Awards. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 and was the recipeient of a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

A feisty and outspoken personality off-stage, James was known for a singing style that ranged from the lush elegance of “At Last” to powerful rhythm and blues like “Good Rockin’ Daddy,” “All I Could Do Is Cry” and her first hit, “The Wallflower.”

She was admired by many of her fellow female artists for her struggles against a system that often undervalued and underrated female performers.

The cost of that struggle was reflected in her lifelong struggle against several extended drug addictions.

“No one who wasn’t there could understand how hard someone like Etta had to fight,” the late Ruth Brown said in 1998. Brown, Lavern Baker and Della Reese, along with James, were some of the early female artists who to this day remain downplayed in early rock ‘n’ roll history.

Ironically, it was a car commercial that ultimately helped secure James’s stature.

In the early 1990s, Jaguar licensed “At Last” in a lavish, memorable television ad that gave the song far wider popular exposure than it had after its original release in 1961. It was a No. 2 R&B hit then, but only reached No. 47 on the pop charts.

James was still performing in the 1990s, and the song’s resurgence enhanced her stature.

She came into the spotlight again in 2008 when a James-like character was featured in the 2008 movie “Cadillac Records.” The movie was loosely based on Chess Records, where James recorded in the 1960s, and it featured Beyonce, as the James character, singing “At Last.”

James said she enjoyed the movie, though it “had some inconsistencies” and largely ignored the success the real-life James had on records and on black radio before she came to Chess in 1960.

She praised Beyonce’s performance, though in early 2009 she complained that Beyonce, rather than James, was invited to sing “At Last” at Barack Obama’s inauguration.

She also said Beyonce “should get her a—whupped,” though she said later she meant that as a joke.

In April 2009, James sang “At Last” on “Dancing with the Stars.”

Born in Los Angeles, James did her early singing in the church before joining impresario Johnny Otis’s stable of Los Angeles R&B singers in the mid-1950s. She sang with Richard Berry, among others, and “The Wallflower” was an answer to the Midnighters’ hit “Work With Me Annie.”

She is survived by her husband of 41 years, Artis, and two sons.

Read more:


Related Posts with Thumbnails