Singing Legend Etta James, whose best for wedding favorite “At Last,” has died, according to her longtime friend and manager, Lupe De Leon. She was 73.
She died from complications from leukemia with her husband, Artis Mills, and her sons by her side, De Leon said, reports CNN.
She was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010, and also suffered from dementia and hepatitis C. James died at a hospital in Riverside, California. She would have turned 74 Wednesday.
” This is a tremendous loss for the family, her friends and fans around the world,” De Leon said. “She was a true original who could sing it all – her music defied category.
“I worked with Etta for over 30 years. She was my friend and I will miss her always.”
Throughout her career, James overcame a heroin addiction, opened for the Rolling Stones, won six Grammys and was voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Despite her ups and downs – including a number of health problems – she maintained an optimistic attitude.
“Most of the songs I sing, they have that blue feeling to it. They have that sorry feeling. And I don’t know what I’m sorry about,” she told CNN in 2002.
“Etta James is unmanageable, and I’m the closest thing she’s ever had to a manager,” Lupe DeLeon, her manager of 30-plus years, told CNN in admiration.
Etta James was born Jamesetta Hawkins in Los Angeles to a teen mother and unknown father. James suspected her father was the pool player Minnesota Fats.
Her birth mother initially took little responsibility and James was raised by a series of people. She was recognized from a young age for her booming voice, showcased in a South Central Los Angeles church.
In 1950, her mother took her to San Francisco, where James formed a group called the Peaches. It’s then that James was discovered making James an R&B star.
Her signing to Chess introduced her to a broader audience, as the record label’s co-owner, Leonard Chess, believed she should do pop hits. Among her recordings were “Stormy Weather,” the Lena Horne classic originally from 1933; “A Sunday Kind of Love,” which dates from 1946; and most notably, “At Last,” a 1941 number that was originally a hit for Glenn Miller.
James’ career suffered in the mid-’60s when the British Invasion took over the pop charts and as she fought some personal demons.
She entered rehab in the 1970s for her drug problem but re-established herself with live performances and an album.
After another stint in rehab she made a comeback album in 1988.
James mastered a range of styles – from R&B and soul to jazz and blues – but she was always one step behind the popular genre of the day, said Michael Coyle, a Colgate University professor who has written about jazz and R&B and reviews records for Cadence Magazine.
“She never really got her moment in the sun,” Coyle said.
James was portrayed by pop star Beyonce in the 2008 film “Cadillac Records,” about Chess. After Beyonce sang “At Last” at one of President Barack Obama‘s 2009 inaugural balls, James lashed out: “I can’t stand Beyonce. She had no business up there singing my song that I’ve been singing forever.” She later told the New York Daily News she was joking.
Over the years, James had her share of health problems. In the late 1990s she reportedly weighed more than 400 pounds and required a scooter to get around. In 2003 she had gastric bypass surgery and dropped more than half the weight, according to People magazine.