This Day In History: January 25th
From gospel prodigy to Grammy-Award winning blues artist, Etta James electrified stages and captivated audiences for more than five decades. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is considered by many to be one of the most dynamic singers of her time.
Jamesetta “Etta” Hawkins was born on January 25, 1938, in Los Angeles, California. By the age of five, she was gaining fame and attention as a gospel prodigy from singing in her church choir and on the radio. Her family relocated to San Francisco and there she formed a singing trio. In 1954, she moved to Los Angeles to record “The Wallflower” with the Otis Band. That same year she took on the name Etta James.
James launched her solo career in 1955 and was signed to Chess Records in 1960. Her career began to take off after signing to the Chicago based label. She recorded chart-topping hits such as “All I Could Do Was Cry,” “At Last” and “Trust in Me.” Her 1973 album, Etta James, earned a Grammy nomination for its blend of rock and funk sounds. James completed her contract with Chess Records in 1977 and signed on with Warner Brothers Records. There she released albums including Deep In The Night and Seven Year Itch.
James was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1993. She continued to release music and her album Let’s Roll won the Grammy Award for best contemporary blues album. She earned her third Grammy Award with the release of Blues to the Bone in 2004.
The early days of Chess Records were brought to the big screen in 2008 with the film Cadillac Records. Beyoncè Knowles portrayed James in the movie and even recorded her own version of James’ signature song, “At Last” for the soundtrack.
Despite finding continued success performing, James began struggling with her health. After being hospitalized it was revealed that the legendary singer suffered from dementia and was receiving treatment for leukemia. James managed to release The Dreamer in November 2011 while battling with her health. Etta James died at her home in Riverside, California, on January 20, 2012.