Etta James Official RRL Biography

Legendary blues singer Etta James was born Jamesetta Hawkins on January 25, 1938 in Los Angeles, California. As a young child, James' family moved from Los Angeles to San Francisco where she began singing in her church choir. As a teenager, Etta became very interested in rhythm & blues.


In 1952, bandleader/producer Johnny Otis took notice of James’ singing when he saw her perform with The Creolettes, a group she had formed with friends. He brought her back to Los Angeles and gave her the stage name “Etta James.” Two years later, they recorded James’ first song, the self-composed “The Wallflower” (originally titled “Roll With Me, Henry”), which went to number two on the R&B charts. The following year, James scored another hit with “Good Rockin’ Daddy,” and began to tour with Otis and his band.


After briefly recording under the name “Etta James & the Peaches,” James signed to Argo Records in 1960 as a solo artist. She recorded a number of songs that became hits on both the R&B and pop charts, including “At Last” and “Pushover,” and also contributed backing vocals to songs recorded by Chuck Berry. 


In 1963, James left Argo and resurfaced signed to the Cadet label in 1967. Her four year hiatus was rumored to be due to drug problems. With Cadet, she released the song “Tell Mama” in 1967, which went on to become her biggest hit however, within three years, James was again label-less and still fighting her alleged heroin addiction. 


After beating her addiction, James signed with Argo’s parent label, Chess Records, in 1974 and began to tour once again, most notably opening for the Rolling Stones in 1978.


Throughout the 1980s, James continued to release albums and tour, and sang at the 1984 Olympics’ opening ceremonies in Los Angeles.


In 1992, James signed with Elektra Records and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame the following year. She won a Grammy Award in 1994 for Best Jazz Vocal for her album Mystery Lady.
James was buried Sunday morning, 29 Jan 2012. Her service was attended by many, many fans and fellow musicians, and several contemporary artists performed to honor the singer.

Her contributions to the blues genre were recognized in 2001 by her induction into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame. In 2003, she was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award, and won a Grammy the following year for Best Contemporary Blues Album for Let’s Roll.
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