Etta James still going strong
Is the blues singer Etta James still alive?
Yes she is, and she's as feisty as ever at age 70.
James was born Jamesetta Hawkins in Los Angeles on Jan. 25, 1938, to her 14-year-old mother. Her mother reportedly claimed her father was a white man named Rudolph Wanderone, better known as "Minnesota Fats." There doesn't seem to be any documentary evidence to support that contention.
In her teens, she sang with a rhythm and blues trio and caught the ear of bandleader Johnny Otis. She toured with him through the late 1950s before catching her biggest break by signing with the Chess Records out of Chicago in 1960.
She quickly refined her blues and R&B act and hit the pop charts with such songs as All I Could Do Was Cry, My Dearest Darling, Trust in Me, Something's Got a Hold on Me, Stop the Wedding, Tell Mama, Don't Cry, Baby and her best-known single, At Last.
Her signatures were her contralto voice and a platinum blond beehive wig. She put 30 singles onto the R&B charts, and nine of them made it to the pop top 40 as well.
She ran into hard times in the 1970s, with an acknowledged drug addiction, but enjoyed a renaissance in the late 1980s and has been discovered by new generations of fans.
She also struggled with her weight, once weighing about 400 pounds. In 2003 she underwent surgery and lost more than 200 pounds. "Now I can flaunt my figure wherever I go,'' she was quoted as saying. "I can go shopping and buy those outfits I always wanted to wear!"
She's won three Grammys, the first in 1994 and the latest for an album in 2004, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 and was named 62nd of the top 100 greatest artists of all time by Rolling Stone magazine. And she's been cited as an influence by singers ranging from Janis Joplin to Bonnie Raitt and Diana Ross.
She also is one of the subjects of the movie Cadillac Records, which was released last week. Beyonce Knowles plays James. When Beyonce was first cast, James was quoted as saying: "I don't think she looks like me, but that's all right. They can fix that up."
For more about James, see her Web site: www.etta-james.com.
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