Etta James

Etta James

Infobox Musical artist
Name = Etta James
Birth_name = Jamesetta Hawkins
Background = solo_singer

Img_capt = Etta James in 1990
Landscape = yes
Alias =
Born = birth date and age|1938|1|25
Died =
Origin = Los Angeles, California, USA
Genre = Blues, soul, R&B, Rock & Roll, jazz
Occupation = Singer, Songwriter
Voice_type = Contralto [ [ Night Blind.] ] .
Years_active = 1954 – Present
Label = Chess (1960–1975)
RCA (2006–present)
Associated_acts = Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday
URL = []

Etta James (born Jamesetta Hawkins on January 25, 1938) is an American blues, soul, R&B, rock & roll and jazz singer and songwriter. James is the winner of four Grammys and seventeen Blues Music Awards. She was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, the Blues Hall of Fame in 2001, and the Grammy Hall of Fame both in 1999 and 2008 "Down Beat Magazine" July 27, 2007 [ Etta James Hospitalized, Tour Suspended] ] . In the 1950s and 60s, she had her biggest success as a blues and R&B singer. She is best known for her 1961 ballad "At Last", which has been featured in many movies, television commercials, and web streaming services since its release. James has a contralto vocal range. [ [ Night Blind.] ] .


Jamesetta Hawkins was born in Los Angeles, California to an unmarried 14-year-old African-American mother, Dorothy Hawkins. She claimed that her mother told her that her father was pool player Rudolph "Minnesota Fats" Wanderone, who was Caucasian, and that they received financial support from him on the condition that they keep his paternity a secret. As James was born in Los Angeles in 1938, at a time when Wanderone was known to be managing a pool hall in Washington, D.C. (and was not known to have been the cross-country traveler he became later in life) this seems unlikely, though it has not been definitively disproved.

She received her first professional vocal training at the age of five years old, from James Earle Hines, musical director of the Echoes of Eden choir at St. Paul Baptist Church in Los Angeles.

James' family moved to San Francisco in 1950 and James soon teamed up with two other girls to form a Doo-wop singing group. When the girls were fourteen, band leader Johnny Otis had them audition: they sang an answer to Hank Ballard's "Work With Me, Annie" called "Roll With Me Henry." Otis particularly liked the song, and against her mother's wishes, James and the trio went to Los Angeles to record the song in 1954. The song was recorded under the label Modern Records. By this time, the trio renamed the song "The Wallflower (Dance with Me, Henry)" and released it in 1955. James named her vocal group The Peaches. Richard Berry, a Los Angeles Doo Wop luminary is featured on some of their records.

In 1969 James married Artis Mills and they had two sons Donto and Sametto James.
From Donto and his wife Pamela Berry (rock n roll Louie Louie songwriter Richard Berry's daughter) she has granddaughter Karissia(1995) .


There are at least two versions of how Johnny Otis discovered Etta James. Otis's version is that she came to his hotel room after one of his performances in San Francisco and persuaded him to audition her. Another frequently told story is that Otis spotted her performing in an L.A. nightclub with The Peaches and, having conceived of the answer song to Hank Ballard's "Work With Me, Annie," arranged with the Bihari brothers for Modern Records to record "The Wallflower" with James. "The Wallflower" reached number two on the rhythm and blues charts in February 1955 but was undercut in the wider market by a rushed-out cover version by Georgia Gibbs on Mercury Records.In fact, the very first time she was recorded in studio, they used the first take she recorded and it became number one on the top 100 songs in the nation. The song's royalties were divided between Hank Ballard, Etta James and Johnny Otis, and its huge success attracted the attention of the R&B world, resulting in James going on tour with Little Richard. On the tour, according to James, she witnessed and experienced situations to which minors are not usually privy, and she allegedly acquired a drug habit. Today Etta has a troublesome personality which may have resulted from her past habits cite book| first= Arnold| last= Shaw| year= 1978| title= Honkers and Shouters| edition=| publisher=Macmillan Publishing Company| location= New York| pages= p. 209-210, 293-294| id= ISBN 0-02-061740-2] .

Career in the 50s

"The Wallflower" was a #1 hit on the R&B charts of 1955. The song was later a hit in the white market for Georgia Gibbs, re-written as "Dance with Me, Henry". Soon after the song's success, The Peaches and Etta parted company, but this did not halt her career. She continued to record and release albums throughout much of the decade, and enjoyed more success. Her follow-up, "Good Rockin' Daddy" was released and became another hit in the fifties. Other songs however, such as "Tough Lover" and "W-O-M-A-N" failed to gain any significant success at all. James toured with Johnny "Guitar" Watson and Otis Redding in the fifties and has cited Watson as the most significant influence on her style.

The Chess Years in the 60s

In 1960, Etta signed a recording contract with Chess Records. Little did she know that she would have the biggest success of her career from this recording label, recording her biggest and most memorable hits. This recording company went into high gear with James, releasing many duets with her then-boyfriend, the married Harvey Fuqua, who was then the lead singer of the Moonglows. One of her duets with Fuqua, called "If I Can't Have You", became a hit on the R&B charts in 1960. As a solo artist however, she had more enduring success. One of her first singles released by Chess in 1960 was called "All I Could Do Was Cry". This Blues number became a big hit for James on the R&B charts in 1960. James' sassy vibe added a significant touch of personality to the song. Leonard Chess, one of the founders of Chess Records, helped James along the way. He saw the potential for James to go into a more Pop-oriented direction. Therefore, James started recording more pop tunes for the label.

The year 1961 became a year of great change for James. In 1961 came the release of one of her first pop-oriented tunes called "At Last". The song became a big hit in 1961, reaching #2 on the R&B charts. The song even went as far as #22 on the Pop charts that year, proving that the Pop crossover direction was becoming successful for her. Although it may have turned out to be less of a hit than expected on the Pop charts, it still made the Top 30. The song became her signature song and the song most people remember her by [cite web
url=|title=Etta James biography|publisher=Rolling Stone|accessdate=2006-12-05
] . Her career had not ended yet though. More success came, following the success of "At Last". Other songs such as "Trust In Me" became hits for her, following the success of her signature tune. The 1962 tune "Something's Got a Hold On Me" (recorded in the UK by Elkie Brooks), showed more of James' Gospel side, a genre she had sung since childhood.

Her 1963 album "Etta James Rocks the House", which was cut at Nashville's "New Era" club also gave her career a boost. She had other big hits in the 1960s, but mainly on the R&B charts. The song "Pushover" was a hit for her in 1963. Other hits followed, like "Stop the Wedding", "Fool That I Am" and "Don't Cry Baby", which were all hits for her between 1961 and 1963. From this, James became one of the most successful R&B artists of the 1960s, having many more Top Ten and Top Twenty hit singles on the charts. She has been classified as one of the pioneers of the Blues, being acclaimed to the ranks of artists like B. B. King. Performing in Memphis, Tennessee, the city where blues started didn't hurt James into making her into a blues icon. Between 1965 and 1967, not much other success had followed, in terms of chart success. However, this wasn't to last for very long, in 1967, she would release another single that would become a big hit again, giving her comeback into music once more.

The Chess Years in the 70s, 80s

In 1967, Etta was ready to release her next hit single. The song was called "Tell Mama" and it became a Top Ten hit on the R&B charts that year. The song showed James' comeback, after a dry period of no hits for almost four years. The song made James a household name once more. The follow-up also proved to be just as successful as "Tell Mama" was for her. The song was called "Security" and proved that James had staying power on the charts again. After that, less success came, but James was still on the charts regularly. Despite the death of Leonard Chess, Etta James stayed with the Chess label into 1975. Towards the end of the Chess years though, James went into more rock-based songs. Her career however did not stop once the Chess years came to an end. Etta recorded for numerous other labels and continued to release albums, like 1978's "Deep In the Night" by Atlantic Records. Etta was able to work with Bruce Robb (producer) for the production, engineering, and mixing of "Deep In the Night" which has many individual hits and the last album she made for a few years.

Despite a dry period during the early to mid 80s, Etta got back on track and began to record music again. She received accolades for her 1981 rendition of Randy Newman's "God's Song". Her 1988 album "Seven Year Itch" proved this comeback capability. The album showed more James' Soul side. In 1989, Etta recorded the song "Avenue D" with David A. Stewart of Eurythmics fame. The song was featured on the soundtrack to the Robert Wise film "Rooftops". She also performed with the Grateful Dead for two shows in 1982 demonstrating the diveristy of her admirers. Into the 1990s, she continued to record and perform. Her albums widely varied in styles and genres of music. Her 1992 album "The Right Time" was another Soul album that was produced by Elektra Records. The album was upbeat as well. She began to record more Jazz music as well, which became the subject for many of her 1990s albums. In 1998 she released a Christmas album called "An Etta James Christmas". To a younger generation, Etta is known for the Muddy Waters song "I Just Wanna Make Love to You", used in television commercials for Coca-Cola and for John Smith's bitter (beer). The Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry and Foghat have also recorded the song. Etta's version was a surprise Top 10 UK hit in 1996.Drug-related and romantic problems interfered with her career, but James managed to maintain a career throughout the latter half of the 20th century [cite web
url=|title=Etta James - inductee
publisher=Rock & Roll Hall of Fame|accessdate=2006-12-05
] . Later in life, James struggled with obesity. She reached more than 400 pounds, experienced mobility and knee problems, and often needed a wheelchair. In 2003, James underwent gastric bypass surgery and lost over 200 pounds [cite web
title=At last! Etta James loses 200 pounds and finds a new zest for life|publisher=|accessdate=2006-12-05

James was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. [cite web
url=|title=Etta James - inductee
publisher=Rock & Roll Hall of Fame|accessdate=2006-12-05
] . She was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2001. Her pioneering contribution to the genre has been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. In 2003 she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame as well as a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked her #62 on their list of the [ 100 Greatest Artists of All Time] [ Rolling Stone Issue 946] .

James won three Grammys: best jazz vocal performance (for Mystery Lady in 1994), Best Contemporary Blues album (for "Let's Roll" in 2003) and Best Traditional Blues album (for Blues to the Bone in 2004) [ [ GRAMMY_Awards] ] . A new album was also released in 2006 called "All the Way", which was released by RCA Records.

Etta James performed at the top world jazz festivals in the world, such as the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1977, 1989, 1990, and 1993, [ [ Montreux Jazz Festival Database] ] performed nine times at the legendary Monterey Jazz Festival, and the San Francisco Jazz Festival five times.

Popular Culture

Etta's hit song, "At Last" has been used in numerous commercials advertisement, including but not limited to:
*At Last was also used in an episode of The Simpsons.

*During a tree flowering scene in Pleasantville (film) At Last is used, as color was appearing to the characters of the movie.

*movie trailer to help promote Disney Pixar's comedy romance film, WALL-E.

elective awards and recognitions

Grammy history


Chart figures from Billboard magazine. As Billboard did not publish an R&B chart in 1964, for this year only, R&B chart figures are from Cashbox.



1: "Mystery Lady: Songs of Billie Holiday" reached #2 on the Billboard Top Jazz Albums chart.
2: "Time After Time" reached #5 on Top Jazz Albums.
3: "Blue Gardenia" reached #1 on Top Jazz Albums.

Deep in the Night was produced, engineered and mixed by Bruce Robb (producer) with Bruce Robb Productions.


ee also

* Monterey Jazz Festival
* San Francisco Jazz Festival
* Chicago Blues Festival
* Bruce Robb (producer)

External links

* [ Etta James Pics]
* [ Official website]
*amg|id=11:0ifixq95ldke~T0|label=Etta James
*imdb|id=0416483|name=Etta James
* [ Etta James - Jazz]
* [ Discography]
* [ Etta James by Bonnie Raitt]
* [ Bruce Robb]

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • Etta Jones — (November 25, 1928 – October 16, 2001) was an American jazz singer whose critical success and relative commercial obscurity earned her a reputation in her lifetime as a jazz musician s jazz singer . A highly underrated singer who rarely received… …   Wikipedia

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