Etta James Dies

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January 20, 2012 | 12:05pm EST

Soul legend Etta James has died at the age of 73.
The singer passed away at a hospital in Riverside, California on Friday after a two-year battle with leukaemia. She also suffered from dementia and hepatitis C.

James was born Jamesetta Hawkins in Los Angeles in 1938 when her mother was just 14 years old.

She began professional vocal training at the age of five with the musical director of a local church, and her big break came after her family moved to San Francisco and she was discovered by blues star Johnny Otis. James was 14 years old when Otis took her and a group of her friends to record in L.A. and they released their first track in 1955 under the name The Peaches.

She soon split from the group and launched a solo career, touring with Otis Redding in the 1950s, before finding fame with her debut solo album At Last, which was released in 1961.

The record included her massive hit single At Last and her famous cover of Muddy Waters’ I Just Want to Make Love to You.

Her successful career in the 1960s was blighted by a heroin addiction, during which James endured a number of stints in a psychiatric hospital. She and her husband, Artis Mills, whom she married in 1969, were both arrested for drug possession and Mills served 10 years in prison. James kicked her bad habit in 1974 but endured another stint in rehab in 1998.

James’ career stalled in the 1980s, but she made a successful comeback and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. A year later, she won her first Grammy Award for her album Mystery Lady: Songs of Billie Holiday.

She went on to win two more Grammys for her work, as well as a lifetime achievement honour and the induction of two of her songs into the Grammy Hall of Fame. James’ star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was unveiled in 2003 and in 2008, her story came to the big screen in musical biopic Cadillac Records, in which James was portrayed by Beyonce.

Her later years were blighted by illness – she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2009 and hospitalised in early 2010 after contracting an infection caused by the MRSA bug.

Her cancer diagnosis came to light at the beginning of 2011 when Mills filed court papers in a bid to win control of her finances, claiming she had become too ill to manage her own affairs. A judge ruled in December that he would remain conservator of her estate following a legal challenge from her son Donto.

She was placed under 24-hour care in December after her health further deteriorated and she spent her last Christmas under the care of doctors in a Riverside hospital after suffering breathing difficulties.

Her death was announced by her longtime friend and manager, Lupe De Leon, and comes just three days after her mentor Otis’ passing at the age of 90.

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