Etta James – The Matriarch of R&B

On January 20, 2011, Etta James — the Matriarch of R&B, the Empress of the blues — passed away at the age of 73, and with her she took one of the remaining strings to the grit and grime of true music. The woman was an artist of the highest caliber. She combined ferocious vocals with an earnestness that spoke to her tumultuous life and her unnerving ability to scratch at the very depths of the human experience.

James’s life was a far cry from the sunny skies and crystal water of her hometown — Los Angeles, California. Born Jamesetta Hawkins, she never knew her father and was seemingly passed from caregiver to caregiver, as her mother had many trysts with multiple men — though she speculated her father to be white pool player Rudolf “Minnesota Fats” Wanderone, her suspicions were never truly validated.

However, any blues singer will tell you without hesitation the one way to heal the broken heart and soothe the fragile spirit is through the church. James was no exception. At the age of five she was proclaimed a gospel prodigy, singing in her local choir as well as on the radio. By 12 years old, she was a force to be reckoned with, her voice defying logic and her stage presence demanding attention.


As unexpected as my path was to loving all things weird, more unexpected is my ability to get attention for writing about the stuff.

10 Responses

  1. stefanie says:

    Wow. That’s quite an write-up!

  2. Julyssa says:

    Wow, this is an amazing article! I’m overwhelmed as well as a bit sad about James. She is one of those women that will forever be an icon of music.

    • Camiele says:

      @Julyssa, Indeed. She was one of those mythical voices and artists that’s very rare. Completely balls to the wall, but then as elegant as an empress. I really loved her… just everything about her.

      Thanks. I’m glad that there are younger people who know this woman. She’s just outstanding!

  3. amy says:

    I thought I would share Christina Aguilera’s rendition of At Last from Etta James’ funeral.

    • Camiele says:

      @amy, Christina could ALWAYS sing this song! I mean GOT DAMN!!!! I love this girl with all my soul. And THAT’S how you represent Etta!

      • amy says:

        @Camiele, I’ve always preferred Aguilera to Beyonce, but I seem to be in the vast minority. Even in things such as bad movies, which both have LOL. Coincidentally, I was watching the Beyonce clip you added when that Aguilera clip popped up in the YT stream. xD

        • Camiele says:

          @amy, Well, there ya go. Burlesque was just a not great movie. However, Beyonce’s just a not great “actor” who ends up in great movies. I don’t know how that works out… but anyway.

          Yes, I’ve always preferred Christina over Beyonce in pretty much everything, so I completely feel you on that.

        • amy says:

          @Camiele, I didn’t think Burlesque was all that bad – cheesy, but had enjoyable elements – anyway, back to Etta. My god, she does good rock and roll.

          I wonder if Aguilera can do rock and roll, she would become my dad’s favorite if she does…

  4. Camiele says:

    @amy, You know, I don’t know if Christina has the vocal variety to do it. I mean, obviosuly I love her voice. But her voice is pretty one-note, considering how big it is. I put her in the same boat of a lot of newer incredible singers — Jennifer Hudson, Fantasia (sometimes). They have a voice for a particualr sound. What made someone like Etta great was that her voice was able to mould easily into different genres. Separating the good from the phenomenal.

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