Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch”series, where we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore music and musicians from the 60’s to today. Enjoy the trip!
Etta James (born Jamesetta Hawkins; January 25, 1938 – January 20, 2012) was an American singer. Her style spanned a variety of music genres including blues, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, soul, gospel and jazz. Starting her career in 1954, she gained fame with hits such as “The Wallflower,” “At Last,” “Tell Mama,” “Something’s Got a Hold on Me,” and “I’d Rather Go Blind” (for which she wrote the lyrics). She faced a number of personal problems, including drug addiction, before making a musical resurgence in the late 1980s with the album Seven Year Itch.
Etta had a very tumultuous childhood as she was brought up by foster parents who ill-treated her. By the age of 5, she was known as a gospel prodigy, gaining fame by singing in her church choir and on the radio. At 12, she moved north to San Francisco, formed a trio and was soon working for band leader Johnny Otis. Four years later, she recorded, Roll with Me Henry, with the Otis band. After signing with Chicago’s Chess Records her career began to soar. She continued to work with Chess throughout the 1960s and early ’70s. Sadly, heroin addiction affected both her personal and professional life. With suggestive stage antics and a sassy attitude, she continued to perform and record well into the 1990s. She possessed the vocal range of a contralto and was initially marketed as R&B and doo-wop singer but broke through as a traditional pop-styled singer, covering jazz and pop music standards. Always soulful, her extraordinary voice was showcased to great effect in singles such as, At Last, Dance With Me Henry and I’d Rather go Blind. As she entered her 70s, Etta James began struggling with health issues and eventually succumbed to Leukemia.
James is regarded as having bridged the gap between rhythm and blues and rock and roll, and is the winner of six Grammys and 17 Blues Music Awards. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, the Blues Hall of Fame in 2001, and the Grammy Hall of Fame in both 1999 and 2008. Rolling Stone ranked James number 22 on their list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time and number 62 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.