At Last: Etta James
inFebruary 22, 2013 - 10:50am
On January 20, 2012 the world lost one of the all time great rhythm and blues singer, Etta James. She was probably one of the most overlooked R&B musicians not receiving the recognition she deserved until the early 1990's. She received 6 Grammy Awards starting in 1994. Her most well known song “At Last” was given the Grammy Hall of Fame Award. And in 2003 she was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. These coming with a list of other awards were all given to her late in life.
She was born Jamesetta Hawkins, January 25, 1938 in Los Angeles, California, to Dorothy Hawkins, her 14-year-old mother. She was raised in foster homes and referred to her mother as the Mystery Lady. Father was unknown but Etta speculated that he was Rudolf Wanderone better known as Minnesota Fats.
She received some vocal training in her early years when she joined the Echoes of Eden Choir at the St. Paul Baptist Church in south central Los Angeles. Years later she reunited with her mother, moving to San Francisco where she formed a girl group, the Creolettes which later became Peaches. At that point Johnny Otis, R&B pioneer, saw the group and took them under his wing. He was instrumental in getting their first recording contract with Modern Records. Etta was only 14 years old at the time but she claimed to be 18. By 1953 Otis arranged her first record release, "Roll With Me Henry" which caught fire and launched her career. She and Johnny remained friends for the rest of their lives, dying just days apart.
In her personal life she had her own demons to contend with. In 1969 she married Artis Mills who introduced her to heroin which started her battle with drug addiction. In the early 1970's she was in and out of rehabilitation centers. She was arrested several times and faced many legal issues. Off and on for the rest of her life she received treatment for drug addiction. In 2008 she was diagnosed with Alzheimer, 2010 it was MRSA and finally leukemia in early 2011. On January 20, 2012 she lost her battles and passed away.
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