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Jamesetta Hawkins a.k.a Etta James - a renowned blues singer started off in the 50?s decades. The lady's no shrinking violet; her autobiography, Rage to Survive, describes her past (including numerous drug addictions) in sordid detail.
Even though with various prevailing problems, it seldom affected her singing. James has hung in there from the age of R&B and doo wop in the mid-'50s through soul's late-'60s heyday and right up into the '90s and 2000s. Etta James' voice has deepened over the years, adding a little roughness, though still conveys remarkable passion and pain.
Jamesetta Hawkins started off with singing gospels, in her Los Angeles Baptist church choir (and over the radio) when she was only five years old under the tutelage of Professor James Earle Hines. She moved to San Francisco in 1950, soon teaming with two other girls to form a singing group. When she was 14, bandleader Johnny Otis gave the trio an audition. He particularly dug their answer song to Hank Ballard & the Midnighters' Work With Me Annie.
Against her mother's wishes, the young singer left for L.A. to record Roll With Me Henry with the Otis band and vocalist Richard Berry in 1954 for Modern Records. Otis inverted her first name to devise her stage-name. Roll With Me Henry, renamed The Wallflower when some radio programmers objected to the original title's subtext, topped the R&B charts in 1955.
The Peaches?s not-so-famous career, Etta James kept on singing for Modern throughout much of the decade. Good Rockin' Daddy also did quite well for her later in 1955, but deserving follow-ups such as W-O-M-A-N and Tough Lover failed to catch on.
In 1960, James landed at Chicago's Chess Records, signing with their Argo subsidiary. Immediately after that, she took a flight to fame, not only did a pair of duets with her then-boyfriend (Moonglows lead singer Harvey Fuqua) chart, her own sides each other up the R&B lists as well. Leonard Chess viewed James as a classy ballad singer with pop crossover potential, backing her with lush violin orchestrations for 1961's luscious At Last and Trust in Me. But James' rougher side wasn't forsaken -- the gospel-charged Something's Got a Hold on Me in 1962, a kinetic 1963 live LP cut at Nashville's New Era Club, and a blues-soaked 1966 duet with childhood pal Sugar Pie De Santo, In the Basement, ensured that.
Although Chess hosted its own house band, James traveled to Rick Hall's Fame studios in Muscle Shoals in 1967 and gave her unsurpassed classics. Tell Mama was a huge success of upbeat Southern soul that contrasted markedly with another noticeable ballad I'd Rather Go Blind. Regardless of the death of Leonard Chess, Etta James remained at the label into 1975, advancing with a more rock-based approach.
There were some mighty slanting years, both personally and professionally, for Miss Peaches. But she got back on track recording-wise in 1988 with a set for Island, Seven Year Itch that reaffirmed her Southern soul mastery. Her following albums -- 1990's Sticking to My Guns was contemporary in the extreme; 1992's Jerry Wexler-produced The Right Time, for Elektra, was slickly soulful, and her most other '90s outings have explored jazz directions.
In 1998, she also issued a holiday album, Etta James Christmas. She was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2001, and in 2003 received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. The same year she released her Let's Roll album, followed in 2004 by a CD of new blues performances, Blues to the Bone, both on RCA Records. James then shifted gears and released an album of pop standards, All the Way, on RCA in 2006.
Etta James is a feisty, no-holds-barred performer, who has paid her dues many times over as an R&B and soul pioneer; long may she continue to shock the inexperienced.X