Etta James, the legendary singer whose career spanned six decades (and just as many musical genres) and whose voice has influenced everyone from Janis Joplin and Bonnie Raitt to Christina Aguilera and Adele, died Friday (January 20) after a lengthy battle with leukemia. She was 73 years old.

Best known for hits like “At Last,” “All I Could Do Was Cry,” “Tell Mama,” “Something’s Got a Hold of Me” and “Good Rockin’ Daddy,” James learned to sing in church, and first recorded professionally as a member of the all-girl doo-wop group the Peaches, with whom she’d score a#1 hit (“The Wallflower,” an answer to Hank Ballard’s “Work with me, Annie”). Soon after that song’s success, James left the group and toured with the likes of Little Richard and Johnny “Guitar” Watson. She’d subsequently sign with Chicago’s Chess Records in 1960, where her powerful contralto was featured on a string of crossover classics that spanned R&B, soul, gospel, blues and even rock. It was during that time that she also began a battle with heroin addiction, one that would lead to stints in rehabilitation facilities and stall her career’s momentum…

James’ health had been in decline for several years. In 2010, her son Donto told reporters that James had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and in January 2011, court documents filed by her husband — who was seeking to take control of her finances, as she was extremely ill — revealed that she was also undergoing treatment for leukemia. In December, James’ live-in physician told a California newspaper that the singer was “terminally ill” and asked “for the prayers of her fans and friends.” James’s final album, The Dreamer, was released in November.


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