Legendary Vocalist Etta James Dies at 73

The Obamas danced to her hit song "At Last" at the Inaugural Ball.

Posted: 01/20/2012 11:00 AM EST
Etta James

Blues singer Etta James (“At Last” and “Tell Mama”) died in Los Angeles on Friday morning. She was 73. The blues entertainer suffered from dementia, kidney failure and chronic leukemia, which her live-in doctor declared incurable just weeks prior to her death.


James was one of few female R&B stars who received consistent acclaim throughout a career spanning six decades. Her gospel-charged, raspy voice earned her numerous awards, including a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album for her record Let’s Roll. Her chart-topping hits included "All I Could Do Was Cry," "At Last" and "Trust in Me."

James was born Jamesetta Hawkins on Jan. 25, 1938, in Los Angeles. She was a gospel prodigy, singing in her church choir and also on the radio by the age of five.

From the Biography Channel:

With suggestive stage antics and a sassy attitude, James continued to perform and record well into the 1990s. Always soulful, her extraordinary voice has been showcased to great effect on her recent private releases, including Blue Gardenia, which rose to the top of the Billboard jazz chart. In 2003, James underwent gastric bypass surgery and lost over 200 pounds. The dramatic weight loss had an impact on her voice, as she told Ebony magazine that year. "I can sing lower, higher and louder," James explained.


That same year, Etta James released Let's Roll, Blues to the Bone (2004), which brought James her third Grammy Award — this time in the Best Traditional Blues Album category. In 2006, James released the album All the Way, which featured cover versions of songs by Prince, Marvin Gaye, and James Brown. She participated in a tribute album the following year for jazz great Ella Fitzgerald called We Love Ella, which won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album. Her sons, Donto and Sametto James, served as producers on the recording along with Josh Sklair.


In 2008, Beyoncé portrayed James in a film about the 1960s Chicago-based record label where the blues singer received her start. While James publicly supported the film, she was reportedly displeased when Beyoncé sang her hit song at President Obama's inauguration ball in January 2009.

Though the singer, whose family and friends nicknamed “Peaches,” is now gone, her music will live on for generations to come.

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(Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

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