Birth Name Jamesetta Hawkins
Music Genre Pop, Blues, Rhythm’n’blues, Jazz, Soul, Rock’n’roll, Soul-Blues
Active Years Since 1938
Born January 25, 1938 in Los Angeles, California, Jamesetta Hawkins is delighted by the choir of the Baptist Church in her neighborhood where she sings at five. Her talent is not long in touring the city, she takes classes with Professor James Earle Hines and sings on the radio.
In 1950, based in San Francisco, she joined a vocal group with two of her sisters when singer Johnny Otis noticed her and auditioned her. His debut recording for the Modern label in 1954, “Roll With Me, Henry,” is a response to Hank Ballard and the Midnighters’ Work With Me Annie. Under pressure from the radio, he is renamed “Wallflower” (No. 1 R & B) and Otis changes the name of the artist in Etta James, accompanied by his choristers, The Peaches.
Etta James continues singing alone or accompanied by Maxwell Davis saxophone or Lee Allen according to the studio; she successively engraves “Good Rockin ‘Daddy” and feminists “W-O-M-A-N” and “Tough Lover” in New Orleans. Acquired by Chess for her label in 1960, Etta James sings duet with boyfriend Harvey Fuqua (The Moonglows) and solo (“All I Could Do Was Cry”). In “At Last” or “Trust In Me”, his R & B carried by a rough voice is tempered by cascades of violins. Recorded in 1961, his cover of Muddy Waters’ “I Just Want To Make Love To You” will be a hit thirty-five years later via an advertisement for Pepsi. Then came “Something’s Got a Hold on Me” in 1962, the live album Etta James Rocks The House (1963) and the blues “In the Basement” in 1966.
In 1967, the fire-loving singer achieved her greatest success with “Tell Mama” recorded at Rick Hall’s Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The future classic, which reaches 23rd place on pop charts, is followed three years later by “I’ve Found Love”. Etta James stays at Chess until 1975, then signs for Warner the album Deep In The Night (1978) before continuing with MCA and Changes (1980), produced by Allen Toussaint.
After a few years of dealing with drugs, Etta James returns in 1986 with the live Late Show, accompanied by saxophonist Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson. In 1988, she recorded for Iceland the valiant Seven Year Itch, followed by Sticking To My Guns (1990) in country girl and The Right Time (1992) produced by Jerry Wexler for Elektra. The soul singer shows that she has not lost anything of her hoarse and bewitching voice.
After a Christmas album in 1998 (Etta James Christmas), the one called “Miss Peaches” was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame (2001) and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (2003). The same year released Let’s Roll, followed by Blues To The Bone (2004) and All The Way (2006). In 2008, the film Cadillac Records that tells the story of Chess, calls on Beyoncé to interpret his role. The compilation Who’s Blue?, Released at Kent in 2011, delivers some rarities.
Suffering from leukemia and dementia senile, Etta James is hospitalized and placed under respiratory assistance in December 2011. The fatal outcome occurs on January 20, 2012 in Riverside (California) where one of the last great blues singers makes the weapons.