January 20, 2012


Etta James obituary: Blues and soul singer with a raw, emotional vocal style (Garth Cartwright, 1/20/12, guardian.co.uk)

James's continuing appeal to new generations was proved when the R&B superstar Beyoncé played James in the 2008 film Cadillac Records. The British pop singer Adele said that it was buying an Etta James CD when she was 13 that made her want to sing.

She was born Jamesetta Hawkins to 14-year-old Dorothy Hawkins and an unknown white father, although James maintained he was the pool shark Rudolf "Minnesota Fats" Wanderone, and was raised at first in Los Angeles by adoptive parents. From the age of five, she sang gospel in the local church and later acknowledged the influence of the choirmaster, Professor James Earl Hines.

When Jamesetta's adoptive mother died, Dorothy reappeared and took her 12-year-old daughter to San Francisco. Dorothy was a hustler and showed no inclination to change her lifestyle. "She was never there when I got off from school," James recalled, "so I could pretty much do what I wanted to do ... drinking, smoking weed." Violence and substance abuse were now constants in James's life and she would maintain a difficult, combative relationship with her mother across many decades.

James formed a vocal trio, the Creolettes, with two teenage friends. They auditioned for the maverick R&B band leader Johnny Otis. He was so impressed with James's voice and her songwriting skills that he offered to take her to Los Angeles the following day to record Roll With Me Henry. She agreed, lied to him that she was 18 and, when he demanded her mother's signed consent, went home and forged it - Dorothy was then in prison.
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Posted by at January 20, 2012 4:25 PM

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