Etta James

From unpromising beginnings - she was the daughter of a 14-year-old unmarried mother - Etta James developed into one of the world's most ferociously passionate singers, capable of delivering pop, gospel, blues and R&B with the same intensity. As a child she received vocal training from James Earle Hines, musical director of the Echoes of Eden choir. When her mother took her to San Francisco in 1950 she formed a doo-wop group with two other girls, calling themselves The Peaches. The girls were picked up by bandleader Johnny Otis who released their first single, The Wallflower in 1955; it went on to become a big R&B hit and resulted in Etta going solo. In 1960 James signed to Chess Records and recorded a series of gospel-flavoured hits like Something's Gotta Hold On Me, Baby What You Want Me To Do and I'd Rather Go Blind. Her career then faded as she battled drug addiction for several decades, but she made a comeback in 1989 with the Seven Year Itch album. Further work through the 1990s included collaborations with rapper Def Jef, a Billie Holiday tribute album and work with legendary producer Jerry Wexler, while she had a surprise hit in 1996 when her version of I Just Wanna Make Love To You was used in a TV commercial for Coca Cola. The Noughties saw James continue to record and perform live, concentrating on a rootsy blues style.

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