Etta James, whose sultry voice penned such hits as the incredible wedding favorite “At Last,” has died on January 20, 2012, according to her longtime friend and manager, Lupe De Leon. She was 73.
James died from complications from leukemia with her husband, Artis Mills, and her sons by her side, De Leon said.
She was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010, and also suffered from dementia and hepatitis C. James died at a hospital in Riverside, California. She would have turned 74 Wednesday.
“This is a tremendous loss for the family, her friends and fans 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.”
Throughout her career, James overcame a heroin addiction, opened for the Rolling Stones, won six Grammys and was voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Despite her ups and downs — including a number of health problems — she maintained an optimistic attitude.
“Most of the songs I sing, they have that blue feeling to it. They have that sorry feeling. And I don’t know what I’m sorry about,” she told CNN’s Denise Quan in 2002. “I don’t!”
Through it all, she was a spitfire beloved by contemporaries and young up-and-comers.
British songstress and award-winning artist Adele named James as one of her favorite singers, along with Aretha Franklin.
“If you were to look up the word singer in the dictionary, you’d see their names,” Adele said in an interview.
Etta James was born Jamesetta Hawkins in Los Angeles to a teen mother and unknown father. (She suspected her father was the pool player Minnesota Fats.)
Her birth mother initially took little responsibility and James was raised by a series of people, notably a pair of boardinghouse owners. But she was recognized from a young age for her booming voice, showcased in a South Central Los Angeles church.