Etta James Biography
She is a four time Grammy award winner and recipient of numerous other awards. She is Known for hit songs such as "Trust in Me," "Fool that I Am" and her signature song "At Last."
Etta James, born Jamesetta Hawkins came into the world on January 25, 1938 in Los Angeles, California to 14-year-old Dorothy Hawkins. At an early age she received her first vocal training there at the St. Paul Baptist Church in Los Angeles California. The family moved to San Francisco in 1950. Once there, she and two other girls formed a Doo-Wop singing group. In 1954 when the girls were ready, the band's mentor Johnny Otis arranged an audition for the group in Los Angeles. Without the permission of her mother, Etta and her group members traveled to their audition.The song selected was called "Roll with me Henry" which would later be renamed to "The Wall flower." This song was an answer to Hank Ballard's song "Work With Me, Annie." Following the audition, the song was released in 1955 and it was a number one hit on the Rhythm & Blues charts. Also, Etta and the group members decided to name the group "The Peaches."
However, Etta and "The Peaches" separated soon after the release of "The Wallflower." For the remainder of the 50's, Etta continued to release new material. Her follow-up song was "Good Rockin' Daddy." This to was a hit for Etta in the fifties. James would release other songs during the 1950's, but a big influence on young Etta's style would be the time spent touring with Otis Redding and Johnny "Guitar" Watson.
In 1960 Etta signed with a subsidiary label of Chess Records called Argo Records. She began her career there with two duets "If I Can't Have You" and "Spoonful" sung with singer Harvey Fuqua. Etta's first major solo hit was with the Rhythm & Blues song "All I Could Do Is Cry." The song climbed the R&B charts reaching #2 in 1960. Etta followed up with "My Dearest Darling" in the same year; then she released her debut album At Last. This album featured all of Etta's hits from 1960 to 1961. Also in 1961, James released a second album "The Second Time Around."
The Chess Brothers believed that James had the potential to cross over to other Genres. Beginning with the hit single "At Last," they backed her up with strings and violins. During 1962, Etta continued her sting of success with some Gospel inspired hits such as "Something's Got a Hold on Me," and "Stop the Wedding." In 1963, James released her first live album "Etta James Rocks the House." That same year, Etta had a big hit with "Pushover." The song was a top ten R&B hit and it made the Top 25 Pop charts. "Pushover" was followed by two minor hits on the Pop charts "Pay Back" and "Two Sides (To Every Story)." Later the same year, she released her third album "Etta James."
Mid 1960's to 1970's
In the mid 60's, Etta began her fight with drug abuse, a battle she would fight for years to come. Consequently her career slowed to a crawl. Later in 1967 she begun to record again. Etta had a huge hit with "Tell Mama" released in 1968. This song made it to the top ten on the R&B charts and number 23 on the hot 100 list. Although Etta wasn't as successful as she was in the earlier 60's, she continued to have hit songs into the 1970's with songs such as "Loser Weepers" released in 1971 and "I Found a Love" released in 1972. In addition, sheremained a great concert attraction. In 1973 James released a self-titled album. This album was a mix of Soul, Blues and Jazz and from it came two minor hits and a Grammy nomination. The follow up album "Out On The Street Again" released in 1974 had good reviews, but produced minor hits. Etta continued to record under the Chess label until 1978. Her final album was "Etta Is Betta Than Evah." In the same year Etta opened for The Rolling Stones on the United States part of their tour and she performed at the Montreaux Jazz Festival, there in Switzerland.
1980's and 90's
After the 1980 album release "Changes," and for several years Etta's career stalled. However by 1989 she made a comeback with the album "Seven Year Itch" recorded at Island Records.Though this album she found a way to use the raw sound she had in earlier albums. In the same year, following the second release "Stickin' to My Guns," Etta collaborated with rap artist Def Jef on the song "Droppin Rhymes on Drums." This song helped to bridged the gap between Jazz and Hip Hop, which influenced the direction of Hip Hop music. In 1992 she released "The Right Time" on the Elektra label and later in 1993 Etta released "Mystery Lady: Songs of Billie Holiday" an album honoring Billie Holiday. In the same year Etta was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the following year "Mystery Lady: Songs of Billie Holiday" earned her a Grammy Award for her jazz vocals. A short time later James released "Time after Time" and later in 1998 she released her first Christmas album "Etta James Christmas."
2000 and Beyond
Going into the next millennium, Etta continued to perform and record her music. One of the first releases in 2000 was "Matriarch of the Blues." This CD received praise from fans and critics alike. In 2001 Etta was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. Although she was getting the recognition that was long over due, she was severally overweight and needed to take drastic action soon. Etta found the courage to look into gastric bypass surgery. As a result of this decision and over time, she was able to loose 200 pounds. Later in 2003 she received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and in April of the same year, her star on the Hollywood walk of fame was unveiled. She released her last album under the Private Music label "Let's Roll" in 2005. The release earned her another Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album. James was featured and portrayed in the 2008 movie Cadillac Records by actress and singer Beyoncé Knowles.This film was loosely based on the people and events at Chess Records during its golden years. Some other Chess artist portrayed in the film were Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry. James went on to received the prestigious Soul/Blues Female artist of the year for the ninth time in 2009. Lastly, her final album "The Dreamer" was released in November 2011; following a brief illness, Etta passed away on January 20, 2012.
Etta James is truly a legend and a fighter. Despite the setbacks, heartache and being overlooked for years she has prevailed. She has inspired and influenced artist such as Janis Joplin, Rod Steward, Christina Aguilera, and The Rolling Stones. Most important of all, after all she has been though in her life, she is still Etta.