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Etta James Biography


Home > Music > J > James, Etta > Biography


Birth Name: Jamesetta Hawkins
Born: 1938/01/25
Birth Place: Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Years Active: 1954-present
Genres: Blues, R&B, Rock & Roll, Jazz, Soul


Etta James (born Jamesetta Hawkins; January 25, 1938) is an American blues, soul, R&B, rock & roll, gospel and jazz singer and songwriter. James is the winner of four Grammys and seventeen Blues Music Awards. She was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, the Blues Hall of Fame in 2001, and the Grammy Hall of Fame in both 1999 and 2008. In the 1950s and 1960s, she had her biggest success as a blues and R&B singer. She is best known for performing "At Last", which has been featured in movies, television shows, commercials, and web-streaming services.

Since 1955, she has released 27 studio albums, 3 live albums, and 7 compilations. She has also issued a total of 58 singles.

After moving to San Francisco, California in the early 1950s, James formed a singing trio, which attracted the attention of Johnny Otis, who helped her sign a recording contract with Modern Records in 1954. She recorded an answer song to Hank Ballard's "Work with Me, Annie," called "The Wallflower (Dance with Me, Henry)" (with her vocal group "The Peaches" singing background vocals), which topped the R&B charts for four weeks in 1955.

The Peaches eventually left the label and James recorded as a solo act, having a second Top 10 hit in 1955 with "Good Rockin' Daddy." She continually recorded for the label until the end of the decade, but without much success.

After beginning to date The Moonglows vocalist, Harvey Fuqua, James signed with Chess Records' subsidiary, Argo. Producer, Leonard Chess believed James had crossover Pop potential, and backed her material with orchestral arrangements. With this new style, many of James's songs became hits on both the R&B and Pop charts, such as "All I Could Do Was Cry,” "At Last," and "Trust in Me."

She released her debut album, “At Last!” in 1960, followed by “The Second Time Around” in 1961. In 1967, James changed to her music into more Soul-inspired material, and had her first Top 10 hit in three years with 1968's "Tell Mama," which was followed by an album of the same name. In the 1970s, her popularity declined on radio, but remained under Chess records, recording six albums for the label, departing from them with 1978's “Deep in the Night.”

After battling drug and alcohol addictions, James returned with her first studio album in nine years in 1989 titled, “Seven Year Itch” on Island Records. Her further two albums in the early 90s for Island and later, Elektra varied in style from contemporary to Soul, but James eventually settled in on the Private Music label.

Recording a total of ten albums for the label between 1997 and 2002, her albums included variations of contemporary blues to traditional Jazz, such as her 1997 tribute album to Billie Holiday titled, “Mystery Lady: Songs of Billie Holiday.” In 2004, she signed with RCA Victor and released “Blues to the Bone” that same year, followed by a Pop standards release, “All the Way” in 2006.