Farewell to matriarch of R&B with the mother of all voices

 

Los Angeles

Etta James, the mercurially-talented singer whose career spanned almost six decades, and who was feted as the "matriarch" of R&B music, has passed away after a long battle with leukaemia. She was 73.

Her death was announced last night by her friend and business manager, Lupe De Leon. He said that Artis Mills, Ms James's husband of 43 years, and her sons, Donto and Sametto, were at her hospital bedside in the Riverside Community Hospital, just east of Los Angeles.

"This is a tremendous loss for the family, her friends and her fans from around the world," De Leon said. "She was a true original who could sing it all. Her music defied category. I worked with Etta for over 30 years. She was my friend and I will miss her always."

Fellow artists paid tribute to both the remarkable voice and the extraordinary range which garnered James six Grammys and allowed her to endure across several generations of popular music, influencing everyone from the Rolling Stones and Janis Joplin to Tina Turner and Beyoncé.

It is a measure of that talent that many hits from her back-catalogue, from "The Wallflower," "Something's Got a Hold on Me," and "Stop the Wedding," to "I'd Rather go Blind" and "Sunday Kind of Love," are still widely referenced by modern artists. Indeed Adele, currently the world's most valuable artist, recently cited James and Aretha Franklin as her foremost inspirations. "If you were to look up 'singer' in the dictionary, you'd see their names," she said. Perhaps her greatest hit, "At Last," which was recorded in 1960, remains a dancefloor staple for newly-married couples. It was also the first song that Barack and Michelle Obama danced to following his inauguration.

Despite the tender beauty of her songs, life wasn't always easy on Etta James, who was famed for her combustible personality and platinum hair.

She was born in Los Angeles in 1938, the daughter of a 14-year-old drug addict and a father she never knew, and learned to sing in a gospel choir.

The singer was "discovered" as a teenager by the bandleader Johnny Otis, who found her performing on a San Francisco street corner in the early 1950s, and after several years with his revue, was catapulted to fame by signing to the Chicago record label Chess, who released her first major hit, "All I Could Do Was Cry," in 1960. Success brought temptation, though, and she became addicted to heroin, a drug she didn't kick until the mid 1970s.

Later in life, she became hooked on painkillers and subsequently suffered dramatic weight gain which was only beaten with the help of gastric band surgery.

After her illness was diagnosed last year, James's husband and sons became involved in a legal battle over her estate. It has yet to be fully settled.

Etta James: Acclaimed soul singer who fought to overcome her personal demons

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea