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Etta James

Few female R&B stars enjoyed the kind of consistent acclaim Etta James received throughout a career that spanned six decades; the celebrated producer Jerry Wexler once called her "the greatest of all modern blues singers," and she recorded a number of enduring hits, including "At Last," "Tell Mama," "I'd Rather Go Blind," and "All I Could Do Was Cry." At the same time, despite possessing one of the most powerful voices in music, James only belatedly gained the attention of the mainstream audience, appearing rarely on the pop charts despite scoring 30 R&B hits, and she lived a rough-and-tumble life that could have inspired a dozen soap operas, battling drug addiction and bad relationships while outrunning a variety of health and legal problems.

Etta James was born Jamesetta Hawkins in Los Angeles, California on January 25, 1938; her mother was just 14 years old at the time, and she never knew her father, though she would later say she had reason to believe he was the well-known pool hustler Minnesota Fats. James was raised by friends and relatives instead of her mother through most of her childhood, and it was while she was living with her grandparents that she began regularly attending a Baptist church. James' voice made her a natural for the choir, and despite her young age she became a soloist with the group, and appeared with them on local radio broadcasts. At the age of 12, after the death of her foster mother, James found herself living with her mother in San Francisco, and with little adult supervision, she began to slide into juvenile delinquency. But James' love of music was also growing stronger, and with a pair of friends she formed a singing group called the Creolettes. The girls attracted the attention of famed bandleader Johnny Otis, and when he heard their song "Roll with Me Henry" -- a racy answer song to Hank Ballard's infamous "Work with Me Annie" -- he arranged for them to sign with Modern Records, and the Creolettes cut the tune under the name the Peaches (the new handle coming from Etta's longtime nickname). "Roll with Me Henry," renamed "The Wallflower," became a hit in 1955, though Georgia Gibbs would score a bigger success with her cover version, much to Etta's dismay. After charting with a second R&B hit, "Good Rockin' Daddy," the Peaches broke up and James stepped out on her own.

James' solo career was a slow starter, and she spent several years cutting low-selling singles for Modern and touring small clubs until 1960, when Leonard Chess signed her to a new record deal. James would record for Chess Records and its subsidiary labels Argo and Checker into the late '70s and, working with producers Ralph Bass and Harvey Fuqua, she embraced a style that fused the passion of R&B with the polish of jazz, and scored a number of hits for the label, including "All I Could Do Was Cry," "My Dearest Darling," and "Trust in Me." While James was enjoying a career resurgence, her personal life was not faring as well; she began experimenting with drugs as a teenager, and by the time she was 21 she was a heroin addict, and as the '60s wore on she found it increasingly difficult to balance her habit with her career, especially as she clashed with her producers at Chess, fought to be paid her royalties, and dealt with a number of abusive romantic relationships. James' career went into a slump in the mid-'60s, but in 1967 she began recording with producer Rick Hall at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama and, adopting a tougher, grittier style, she bounced back onto the R&B charts with the tunes "Tell Mama" and "I'd Rather Go Blind."

In the early '70s, James had fallen off the charts again, her addiction was raging, and she turned to petty crime to support her habit. She entered rehab on a court order in 1973, the same year she recorded a rock-oriented album, Only a Fool, with producer Gabriel Mekler. Through most of the '70s, a sober James got by touring small clubs and playing occasional blues festivals, and she recorded for Chess with limited success, despite the high quality of her work. In 1978, longtime fans the Rolling Stones paid homage to James by inviting her to open some shows for them on tour, and she signed with Warner Bros., cutting the album Deep in the Night with producer Jerry Wexler. While the album didn't sell well, it received enthusiastic reviews and reminded serious blues and R&B fans that James was still a force to be reckoned with. By her own account, James fell back into drug addiction after becoming involved with a man with a habit, and she went back to playing club dates when and where she could until she kicked again thanks to a stay at the Betty Ford Center in 1988. That same year, James signed with Island Records and cut a powerful comeback album, Seven Year Itch, produced by Barry Beckett of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. The album sold respectably and James was determined to keep her career on track, playing frequent live shows and recording regularly, issuing Stickin' to My Guns in 1990 and The Right Time in 1992.

In 1994, a year after she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, James signed to the Private Music label, and recorded Mystery Lady: Songs of Billie Holiday, a tribute to the great vocalist she had long cited as a key influence; the album earned Etta her first Grammy Award. The relationship with Private Music proved simpatico, and between 1995 and 2003 James cut eight albums for the label, while also maintaining a busy touring schedule. In 2003, James published an autobiography, Rage to Survive: The Etta James Story, and in 2008 she was played onscreen by modern R&B diva Beyoncé Knowles in Cadillac Records, a film loosely based on the history of Chess Records. Knowles recorded a faithful cover of "At Last" for the film's soundtrack, and later performed the song at Barack Obama's 2009 inaugural ball; several days later, James made headlines when during a concert she said "I can't stand Beyoncé, she had no business up there singing my song that I've been singing forever." (Later the same week, James told The New York Times that the statement was meant to be a joke -- "I didn't really mean anything...even as a little child, I've always had that comedian kind of attitude" -- but she was saddened that she hadn't been invited to perform the song.)

In 2010, James was hospitalized with MRSA-related infections, and it was revealed that she had received treatment for dependence on painkillers and was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, which her son claimed was the likely cause of her outbursts regarding Knowles. James released The Dreamer, for Verve Forecast in 2011. She claimed it was her final album of new material. Etta James was diagnosed with terminal leukemia later that year, and died on January 20, 2012 in Riverside, California at the age of 73. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

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Track List: The Complete Private Music Blues, Rock 'N' Soul Albums Collection

Disc 1
Disc 2
Disc 3
Disc 4
Disc 5
Disc 6
Disc 7
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Track List: The Chess Box

Disc 1
Disc 2
Disc 3

Comments

Etta James is by far the greatest blues I've ever heard, and my her soul rest in forever peace♥
No one and I mean no one can sing 'AT LAST like Etta James, she owns this song. She will forever be missed! RQrlh
Clasii
Cllasic four
walter168054
The Queen of Blues etc.!
baily your a dumbass! Or too young to realize the HISTORY of today's music.
mcol92065
Etta James is an American treasure.
Mother of the Blues. This woman is it.Music lover Pam Gooch
baileywalker 3 2 6
1.Say your name
2. Say your mom's email.
3. Kiss your niece or cousin.
4. Hahahahahaha h a h a h a h a h a h a h a h a h a h a h a h you fell for it you dumbbutt
She may be mimicked but she can never be duplicated! I was so disappointed that she was not invited to sing her song, At Last, at President Obama's inaugural Ball.
THEY DON'T MAKE MUSIC LIKE THIS ANYMORE! WE LOVE YOU ETTA!
How could anyone not like this ?
ally_warh01
Cry cry cry
So much emotion in her voice in all her songs one of the greats Rip Etta James
All Good
What a voice...love Etta James!!!!
Good Music
I am oldsoul love love me some old blue
Aron neivel
I love her and I'm 12
This white old lady LOVES HER
Etta could sing a lullaby fit for the fussiest baby or sizzle enough to make you blush. That's range! Love me some Etta James
My Etta!!!!
sizbelle should not be allowed to post
slizbelle
Don't read this because it actually works. You will be kissed on the nearest Friday by the love of your life. Tomorrow will be the best day of your life. However if you don't post this you will die in 2 days. Now you started reading this so don't stop. This is so scary put this on at least 5 songs in the next 143 minutes. When done press f6 and your lovers name will appear on the screen in big letters this is so scary because it actually works
The version of this song is horrid
Beautiful!!! !
Its been 4yrs that ive been alone.... at last :)
AT LAST WILLLLLLLLLL L 4EVER BE ETTA'S ....... NO ONE EXCEPT MS BILLE COULD SUNG IT BETTEAAAAA.. . . REST OF Y'ALL BOW TO THE REAL QUEEN OF DA BLUES MS.ETTA... REST IN PEACE
Sang it waaaaaaaay better than beyoncé. Period!!
Etta James! Need I say more!
<3
jtly66
the best female singer of all times, listen to that voice. The Best
One of the greatest female R & B singers of all time, rest in peace.
jtly66
The R & B Female Voice She's One Of The Best
I love this song so smooth. Though this was the theme song at my wedding. To bad the marriage didn't last. LOL
That's r¡t3 ....G3t dwn !!!!!...that ' s d jam.....:)
jgp1945
This is such a positive and uplifting song. and you know she`s singing it just for you....
AT LAST+ IS ONE OF MY ALL TIME FAVORITES, ETTA WAS HOT
OooooWee Etta!
One of my favorites. A timeless song. Dear Jamesetta.
I don't care who sings 'At Last' because Etta owns it and always will.
SING IT MAMA
Her songs give me goosebumps every time. Always will be classic.
Posted a couple of years ago after listening to Misty Blue... well, it's playing again and once again, as I fully expected before, I've fallen in love with that soulful voice. As long as recordings exist she'll be known and loved for generations to come.
Who ends instruments with those pipes, real musical talento. TAZ...
Talk about a bad a** rola,,,homeg i r l can fkn blow!!!
At Last, most wonderful song!
Power unabated
Chillin'
Sugar On The Floor. Saw her sing that song on a PBS Special. Love her voice.
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