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Etta James ( 1938 - )  Category ( Singers ) [suggest a correction]
 

Etta JamesFor more than 60 years, Etta James has sung -- and lived -- the blues.

Born January 25, 1938, she started out at age five with the Voices of Eden choir in Los Angeles. She was first recorded at 14, after she and two other girls formed a doo-wop group in San Francisco and were discovered by band leader Johnny Otis. Five years later, she had a No. 1 national hit with "The Wallflower."

It wasn't until she signed with the Chicago-based Chess Records in 1960, however, that James' career really began its upward climb. After scoring a couple of minor duet hits with her then-husband, Harvey Fuqua, she hit No. 2 on the R&B chart with "All I Could Do Was Cry." That was followed by "At Last" and "Trust In Me." By 1961, she had also put out two albums.

Unfortunately for James, lots of long nights on the road had also triggered an addiction problem that led up the ladder to heroin. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, her career suffered accordingly. She married for a second time in 1969, to Artis Mills, but he was also a heroin user and was sentenced to 10 years for possession in 1972.

James, meanwhile, bounced from one rehab center to another, primarily the Tarzana Psychiatric Center in Los Angeles (a court-ordered alternative treatment after she was convicted of forgery and drug possession). She continued to battle this personal demon until 1988, when she declared herself cured after a stint in the Betty Ford Center.

Nevertheless, James still had moments when her brilliance as an artist flashed through the darkness like heat lightning. In 1967, she went into the Muscle Shoals, AL studio and cut perhaps her signature anthem -- "Tell Mama." In 1998, a year after her announced sobriety, she combined with rap artist Def Jef for "Droppin' Rhymes on Drums," an influential tune in the early hip hop movement.

Indeed, it would be hard to find a musical form that James hasn't explored -- gospel, doo-wop, blues, rock n' roll, R&B, hip-hop, ballads. She has been credited as an influence by a wide range of later soulful singers, including Janis Joplin, Diana Ross and even Rod Stewart.

As so often happens, the world came late to its appreciation of Etta James' talents. The Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame welcomed her into one of its earlier classes in 1993, and she was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in 2001. Suddenly, her albums started to fly off the shelves -- "Life, Love & the Blues" (1999), "Burnin' Down the House" (2003) and "Let's Roll" (2004) all scored Soul/Blues Album of the Year.

Most recently, James made a special appearance on "Dancing with the Stars," singing her 1971 classic, "At Last."

She and Artis Mills were reunited after he served his 10-year jail term and remain married today.


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