Soul legend Etta James dies aged 73
Soul singer Etta James has died aged 73.
Her feisty rhythm and blues style and raw, passionate vocals anchored many hits and made the yearning ballad At Last an enduring anthem for weddings, adverts and even US President Barack Obama.
She had been suffering from dementia and kidney problems, and was battling leukaemia. In December 2011, her doctors announced that her leukaemia was terminal and asked for prayers for the singer.
During her illness, her husband Artis Mills and her two sons fought bitterly over control of her million-dollar estate and a deal was struck keeping Mr Mills as the conservator and capping the singer's expenses.
James died at Riverside Community Hospital, with her husband and sons at her side, said her manager Lupe De Leon. "It's a tremendous loss for her fans around the world. She'll be missed. A great American singer. Her music defied category," he said.
Boldness was as much a trademark of James, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as her platinum-dyed mane.
She scored her first hit when she was just a teenager with the suggestive Roll With Me, Henry, which had to be changed to The Wallflower in order to get airplay. Over the years she notched up many more, carving a niche for herself with her husky, soulful voice and her sassy attitude, which permeated her songs.
But it was her jazz-inflected rendition of At Last that would come to define her and make her legendary. The song, which starts with sumptuous strings before James begins to sing, was a remake of a 1941 standard. James made it her own, and her version became the new standard.
Over the decades, countless brides have used it as their song down the aisle, and it has been featured in car adverts and films such as American Pie. But perhaps most famously, Obama and the first lady danced to a version of At Last at his inauguration ball.
But the tender, sweet song belied the turmoil that James - born Jamesette Hawkins in Los Angeles - would endure for much of her life. Her mother, whom she described in her 1995 autobiography Rage To Survive as a scam artist, a substance abuser and unstable, was a fleeting presence in her life and she never knew her father.