Music Legend Etta James Dead at 73

The entertainer behind the memorable ballad "At Last" dies of complications from leukemia.

R&B legend and South Los Angeles native Etta James died Friday at a Riverside hospital of complications from leukemia. She was 73.

James died at 8 a.m. at Parkview Community Hospital, according to the Riverside County Coroner's Office.

The entertainer, known for such hits as At Last, Tell Mama and Loser Weepers, would have been 74 on Wednesday.

The Los Angeles City Council adjourned its meeting Friday in memory of James, who began singing as a child at St. Paul Baptist Church in South Los Angeles, where she was noticed by influential jazz pianist "Professor" James Earl Hines around the age of 5 or 6, according to Councilwoman Jan Perry.

"Her rich voice influenced generations of singers who came after her, from Tina Turner to Bonnie Raitt to Christina Aguilera," Perry told her council colleagues.

Flowers were placed on James' star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7080 Hollywood Boulevard late Friday morning.

Born Jamesetta Hawkins on Jan. 25, 1938, she began singing gospel in her church choir as a child and recorded her first album in 1954, at age 16.

She had a prosperous solo career through the 1950s, and despite battles with heroin addiction, hit her peak in the 1960s, recording popular ballads that included her signature At Last.

During her 40-plus-year career, she won four Grammys and 17 Blues Music Awards and toured with such notables as Little Richard and Otis Redding. She earned a place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.

Her early career was depicted in the 2008 film Cadillac Records, which portrayed the lives of some of America's music legends. James was played by Beyonce Knowles, who sang "At Last" for the first dance of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama after the president's 2009 inauguration.

James had harsh words back then for Beyonce's performance, which James' son would later attribute to dementia.

Beyonce issued a statement today calling James' death "a huge loss."

"Etta James was one of the greatest vocalists of our time," she said. "I am so fortunate to have met such a queen. Her musical contribution will last a lifetime."

She said playing James "taught me so much about myself, and singing her music inspired me to be a stronger artist. When she effortlessly opened her mouth, you could hear her pain and triumph. Her deeply emotional way of delivering a song told her story with no filter. She was fearless, and had guts."

James retreated from stage appearances in 2009, appearing on national television for the last time that year in an episode of Dancing with the Stars,during which she sang.

She had made her home in Riverside for the last two decades.

The singer's $1 million estate has been the subject of a legal tug-of- war between her son, Donto James, and husband of 42 years, Artis Mills, who is not the young man's father.

James was diagnosed with leukemia two years ago. She also had dementia and a kidney deficiency and exhibited symptoms of organic brain syndrome.

James' health problems have been at the center of the suit, which Mills filed in 2010, seeking to have his wife's savings accounts declared community property, thereby removing any barriers he otherwise would face in using the funds. Donto James is challenging the action on the grounds that his mother gave him power-of-attorney to govern her affairs.

A Riverside County Superior Court judge in December ordered that $350,000 be used exclusively for her medical care.

mary wilson January 22, 2012 at 07:09 AM
R.I.P. Mrs. James. God has taken home an angel!! U will b miss. Mary W.
trevor January 22, 2012 at 07:15 AM
she passed with "good feeling" at the top of the charts...you'll always be in our hearts Hope the skies above are blue :)
marshelia ngadiuba January 22, 2012 at 10:15 AM
my prayers goes out to the wonderful soul singer Ms.Etta James,she is really miss by everyone who ever heard this wonderful lady sing God Bless the family always ,she in no more pain, i will always remember dancing to her songs, all the way from "tell mama" a fan always Marshelia las vegas, nv.
marshelia ngadiuba January 22, 2012 at 10:18 AM
my prayers goes out to the wonderful soul singer Ms. Etta James,she is really miss by everyone who ever has heard this wonderful lady sing God Bless the family always, she is in no more pain, i will always remember dancing to her songs, all the way from "Tell Mama Las Vegas, Nev.
LadyKat True Blue January 22, 2012 at 12:34 PM
Ms. Etta 'You are still a Valiant, and Beautiful Inspiration to all Music Genres' and one of the Greatest vocalist of all time! Very Blessed to have seen you perform several times in my hometown, Portland,Oregon. A few being @ the Waterfront Blues Fest, where I had the great opportunity to perform on the same stage. Wish i had met 'You & I'm sure I will someday in God's Heavenly Choir! God Bless 'You and Yours... Lady Kat True blue.


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