[JPL] Etta James remembered as an authentic voice at funeral

Dr. Jazz drjazz at drjazz.com
Sat Jan 28 16:55:27 EST 2012


Los Angeles (CNN) -- About 300 mourners remembered legendary singer Etta 
James on Saturday as an authentic voice whose velvety vocals bridged 
genres from blues to rock.

Another legendary singer, Stevie Wonder, gave a musical tribute to James 
at her funeral: He played the electronic keyboard and sang his "Shelter 
in the Rain." He then performed on the harmonica and sang The Lord's Prayer.

Also performing at the service was Christina Aguilera, who sang James' 
signature song "At Last" and ended her rendition to a standing audience 
with a farewell directed at James' casket: "May you rest in peace."

The Rev. Al Sharpton presided over the funeral in southern California 
where James was raised, and he began the service by reading aloud a note 
from President Barack Obama, who said that James' talents transcended 

Obama wrote that James will be remembered for her voice, Sharpton told 
family and friends at Greater Bethany Community Church City of Refuge in 

"I know she will be sorely missed by all those who knew and loved her," 
the president's note said, according to Sharpton.

James died January 20 at the age of 73 of complications due to leukemia 
at a hospital in Riverside, California. She would have turned 74 last 

Her assertive, earthy voice lit up such hits as "The Wallflower," 
"Something's Got a Hold on Me" and the wedding favorite "At Last."

Sharpton said that James first developed her voice in a local Baptist 
church as a little girl singing gospel -- which "was just race music 
when she started." When she died this month, he said, her photograph 
appeared on the front page of the New York Times, a mark of a triumphant 

"Etta James has given us too much to work with," Sharpton said. "Etta 
James was for real. She was authentic.

"I think it was her authenticity that was part of the charisma that drew 
people to her," Sharpton said. "She really became a bridge of American 
culture that changed the culture of the world. It was Etta James that 
bridged rhythm and blues with rock and roll.

"Etta James helped break down the culture curtain of America before the 
Civil Rights Act of 1964," Sharpton eulogized. "She was able to get us 
to sing the same rhythms and melodies."

Evoking the title of a signature song of James, Sharpton raised his 
voice: "At last, you can find peace now!

"At last, you can get the gratitude of the savior now," Sharpton 
continued. "Etta, you made it, you're going home. At last! At last! At 

Donto James, the older of James' sons, recalled how his mother had a 
soft spot for anyone who lost their mother. Donto James played drums in 
his mother's band.

"She'd give them a job like that," he told the mourners.

"She loved her band. She would pick up anybody to work for," he added.

In a lighter moment, the son recalled how high-spirited his mother was.

"She was feisty, very feisty," he said. "I found myself as a son trying 
to clean up some things. I should have tried to stay out of it. I don't 
know what I was doing."

Fans got the opportunity Friday to bid farewell to James during a public 
viewing at the Inglewood Cemetery Mortuary. Hundreds of people waited 
for hours to sign registers and attend the viewing for James.

The family has requested donations be sent to The Rhythm & Blues Foundation.

The powerhouse singer, known as "Miss Peaches," first hit the charts as 
a teenager, taking "The Wallflower (Roll With Me, Henry)" -- an "answer 
record" to Hank Ballard's "Work With Me, Annie" -- to No. 1 on the R&B 
charts in 1955.

She joined Chess Records in 1960 and had a string of R&B and pop hits, 
many with lush string arrangements.

After a mid-decade fade, she re-emerged in 1967 with a more hard-edged, 
soulful sound.

Throughout her career, James overcame a heroin addiction, opened for the 
Rolling Stones, won six Grammys and was voted into the Rock and Roll 
Hall of Fame.

Despite her ups and downs -- including a number of health problems -- 
she maintained an optimistic attitude.

"Most of the songs I sing, they have that blue feeling to it. They have 
that sorry feeling. And I don't know what I'm sorry about," she told 
CNN's Denise Quan in 2002. "I don't!"

Through it all, she was a spitfire beloved by contemporaries and young 

"Etta James is unmanageable, and I'm the closest thing she's ever had to 
a manager," Lupe De Leon, her manager of 30-plus years, told CNN.

British songstress Adele named James as one of her favorite singers, 
along with Aretha Franklin.

"If you were to look up the word 'singer' in the dictionary, you'd see 
their names," Adele said in an interview.

Etta James was born Jamesetta Hawkins in south Los Angeles to a teen 
mother and unknown father. She suspected her father was Rudolph 
Wanderone Jr., the famous pool hustler known as Minnesota Fats.

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