Jamesetta Hawkins (January 25, 1938 – January 20, 2012), known professionally as Etta James, was an American singer who performed in various genres, including gospel, blues, jazz, R&B, rock and roll, and soul. 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“. She faced a number of personal problems, including heroin addiction, severe physical abuse, and incarceration, before making a musical comeback in the late 1980s with the album Seven Year Itch.
James’s deep and earthy voice bridged the gap between rhythm and blues and rock and roll. She won six Grammy Awards and 17 Blues Music Awards. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999, and the Blues Hall of Fame in 2001. She also received a Grammy lifetime achievement award in 2003. Rolling Stone magazine ranked James number 22 on its list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time; she was also ranked number 62 on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. Billboard‘s 2015 list of “The 35 Greatest R&B Artists Of All Time” also included James, whose “gutsy, take-no-prisoner vocals colorfully interpreted everything from blues and R&B/soul to rock n’roll, jazz and gospel. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame called hers “one of the greatest voices of her century” and says she is “forever the matriarch of blues.”
James was born on January 25, 1938, in Los Angeles, California, to Dorothy Hawkins, who was 14 at the time. Although her father has never been identified, James speculated that she was the daughter of pool player Rudolf “Minnesota Fats” Wanderone, whom she met briefly in 1987.Her mother was frequently absent from their apartment in Watts, conducting relationships with various men, and James lived with a series of foster parents, most notably “Sarge” and “Mama” Lu. James referred to her mother as “the Mystery Lady”.