Etta James, who was 73, is another of the great R&B figures to come out of the Los Angeles area. She sang at St. Paul Baptist Church here before moving to San Francisco as a teenager. She died Friday in Riverside after suffering from ill health, including leukemia and dementia. James was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 by KD Lang. From the hall's bio:
Jerry Wexler, Atlantic Records’ legendary producer, describes Etta James as “the greatest of all modern blues singers...the undisputed Earth Mother.” Her raw, unharnessed vocals and hot-blooded eroticism has made disciples of singers ranging from Janis Joplin to Bonnie Raitt. James’ pioneering 1950s hits - “The Wallflower” and “Good Rockin’ Daddy” - assure her place in the early history of rock and roll alongside Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Ray Charles. In the Sixties, as a soulful singer of pop and blues diva compared with the likes of Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday, James truly found her musical direction and made a lasting mark.
James was born Jamesette Hawkins in Los Angeles in 1938. Though brought up in the church, she was drawn to rhythm & blues and rock and roll, and by her midteens had formed a vocal trio that worked up an answer song to Hank Ballard’s “Work With Me Annie” entitled “Roll With Me Henry.” The trio caught the attention of bandleader Johnny Otis, who recorded “Roll With Me Henry,” which was retitled “The Wallflower” and topped the R&B chart for four weeks in 1955. James toured the R&B circuit with Otis and other artists and recorded for Modern Records until 1958.
It was at the Chicago-based Chess label (where she recorded for Chess and its Argo and Cadet subsidiaries) that she molded her identity as a singer of both modern blues and pop-R&B ballads.
James performed “When the Saints Go Marching In” on global television at the opening ceremony of the 1984 Summer Olympics in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. She was portrayed by Beyonce Knowles in the 2008 musical biopic "Cadillac Records." You'll hear pieces of a number of her hits through the day. We're going with "Tell Mama," above.
Earlier this week:
Johnny Otis was 90
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