Genius. Legendary. Idol. Raunchy diva. These were some of the words used to describe late soul singer Etta James at a private memorial service on Saturday. At the emotional service, which was attended by family and celebrity friends, James was remembered not only for her singing ability, but her knack for turning personal pain into triumph.
Rev. Al Sharpton gave a moving eulogy for the Grammy Award-winning songstress, who died on January 20 after losing her battle with leukemia at the age of 73.
"The genius of Etta James is she flipped the script," Sharpton said, alluding to the singer’s struggles with addiction. "She waited until she turned her pain into power.”
Sharpton pointed out how the Los Angeles native was able to find success in entertainment during a period in history when segregation and racial inequality prevented many minority stars from getting their just due.
"She was able to get us on the same rhythms and humming the same ballads and understanding each other's melodies way before we could even use the same hotels," Sharpton said.
Among the celebrities that performed at the ceremony were Christina Aguilera and Stevie Wonder, who sung three songs, including "Shelter in the Rain" and a harmonica solo. Aguilera delivered a powerful rendition of James's "At Last."
"Out of all the singers that I've ever heard, she was the one that cut right to my soul and spoke to me," Aguilera said before her performance.
Rev. Sharpton also read a statement issued by President Barack Obama. The commander in chief and First Lady Michelle Obama famously danced to James’s classic song “At Last” during the inaugural ball in 2009.
"Etta will be remembered for her legendary voice and her contributions to our nation's musical heritage," Obama's statement read.
Fellow politician U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif, also shared her thoughts on James.
"Etta is special to me and for me, because she represents the life, the triumphs, the tribulations of a lot of Black women all over this world," said Rep. Waters.
"It does not matter who sang 'At Last' before or after Etta. It does not matter when it was sung, or where it was sung. 'At Last' was branded by Etta, the raunchy diva — that's her signature and we will always remember her."
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