Blues singer Etta James, perhaps the quintessential R&B diva, died Friday morning, said her son, Donto James. She was 73.
James died of complications from leukemia at a Riverside, California hospital, said Dr. Elaine James, her personal physician. She had been in failing health for years.
Born Jamesetta Hawkins in Los Angeles on January 25, 1938, she spent much of her life in the city. Her dusky voice influenced generations of singers, ranging from Tina Turner to Bonnie Raitt and Christina Aguilera. Beyonce portrayed her in 2008 movie Cadillac Records.
“This is a huge loss,” Beyonce said Friday in a statement on her Web site. “Etta James was one of the greatest vocalists of our time. I am so fortunate to have met such a queen. Her musical contributions will last a lifetime.
“Playing Etta James taught me so much about myself, and singing her music inspired me to be a stronger artist. When she effortlessly opened her mouth, you could hear her pain and triumph. Her deeply emotional way of delivering a song told her story with no filter. She was fearless, and had guts. She will be missed.”
In 1993, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“It really does mean a lot,” she told the Los Angeles Times upon her induction. “It shows that if you’re hanging around the candy store long enough, people start giving you things.”
Her recording career spanned six decades. Her naughty 1955 single “The Wallflower” (also known as “Roll With Me Henry”) soon made her a national star.
However, James was best known for the ballad “At Last.” A 1961 hit, it is in the Grammy Hall of Fame.
A 1994 album of jazz standards, Mystery Lady, earned James the first Grammy of her career, for jazz vocal performance. Two other Grammys followed : for 2003’s Let’s Roll, named best contemporary blues album, and her 2004 collection “Blues to the Bone,” named best traditional blues album.
Etta James is survived by sons Donto and Sametto James, whom she hired as co-producers; Artis Mills, her husband of 42 years; and several grandchildren.