Etta James

At Last!

Forever the matriarch of the blues

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The Story

James possessed the vocal range of a contralto. Her musical style changed during the course of her career. At the beginning her recording career, in the mid-1950s, James was marketed as an R&B and doo-wop singer. After signing with Chess Records in 1960, James broke through as a traditional pop-styled singer, covering jazz and pop music standards on her debut album, At Last! James's voice deepened and coarsened, moving her musical style in her later years into the genres of soul and jazz.

re-worked album cover for Etta James At Last! album

At Last!

At last
My love has come along
My lonely days over
And life is like a song

Ooh Yeah, Yeah, At last
The skies above are blue
My heart was wrapped up in clover
The night I looked at you

I found a dream
That I could speak to
A dream that I can call my own
I found a thrill
To press my cheek to
A thrill that I have never known

You smile
You smile
Oh and then the spell was cast
And here we are in heaven
For you are mine at last

image of a young Etta James

The Wallflower

Etta James was born Jamesetta Hawkins on January 25, 1938, in Los Angeles, California, to a 14-year-old mother, Dorothy Hawkins, who encouraged her daughter's singing career. James would later say, "My mother always told me, even if a song has been done a thousand times, you can still bring something of your own to it. I'd like to think I did that." James never knew her father.

By the age of 5, James was known as a gospel prodigy, gaining fame by singing in her church choir and on the radio. At age 12, she moved north to San Francisco, where she formed a trio and was soon working for bandleader Johnny Otis. Four years later, in 1954, she moved to Los Angeles to record "The Wallflower" (a tamer title for the then-risqué "Roll with Me Henry") with the Otis band. It was that year that the young singer became Etta James (an shortened version of her first name) and her vocal group was dubbed "the Peaches" (also Etta's nickname). Soon after, James launched her solo career with such hits as "Good Rockin' Daddy" in 1955.

Tell Mama

After signing with Chicago's Chess Records in 1960, James's career began to soar. Chart toppers included duets with then-boyfriend Harvey Fuqua, the heart-breaking ballad "All I Could Do Was Cry," "At Last" and "Trust in Me." But James's talents weren't reserved for powerful ballads. She knew how to rock a house, and did so with such gospel-charged tunes as "Something's Got a Hold On Me" in 1962, "In The Basement" in 1966 and "I'd Rather Go Blind" in 1968.

James's work gained positive attention from critics as well as fans, and her 1973 album Etta James earned a Grammy nomination, in part for its creative combination of rock and funk sounds. After completing her contract with Chess in 1977, James signed on with Warner Brothers Records. A renewed public profile followed her appearance at the opening ceremony of the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. Subsequent albums, including Deep In The Night and Seven Year Itch, received high critical acclaim.

image of Etta James singing in the studio in her mid career
image of Etta James late in her life

The Queen of Soul

With suggestive stage antics and a sassy attitude, James continued to perform and record well into the 1990s. Always soulful, her extraordinary voice was showcased to great effect on her recent private releases, including Blue Gardenia, which rose to the top of the Billboard jazz chart. In 2003, Etta James released Let's Roll, which won the Grammy Award for best contemporary blues album. Her sons, Donto and Sametto James, served as producers on the recording, along with Josh Sklair. This team regrouped for her next effort, Blues to the Bone, which brought James her third Grammy Award—this time for best traditional blues album.

In 2006, James released the album All the Way, which featured cover versions of songs by Prince, Marvin Gaye and James Brown. She participated in a tribute album the following year for jazz great Ella Fitzgerald, called We Love Ella.

Upcoming
Tour Dates

93.12.08

The 90 Jazz

Chapel Hill, NC

94.17.08

Pabst Theater

Milwaukee, WI

95.09.08

The Alfond

Chapel Hill, NC

96.94.08

Taft Theatre

Cincinnati, OH

97.92.08

Oldies Hall

Nashville, TN

98.12.08

TEC Theater

Long Beach, CA

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