Remembering The Late Singing Legend Etta James

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James passed away on Friday from leukemia-related complications. She was 73 years old. She's best known for the 1961 rendition of 'At Last,' but her dynamic voice found success in many genres, including blues, jazz and pop. Host Michel Martin looks back on James' storied career.


And we couldn't end our program today without taking a moment to acknowledge the passing of music legend Etta James. She died late last week from complications caused by leukemia at the age of 73. She built a career on the sheer power of her versatile voice, which shifted seamlessly between rhythm and blues, dreamy jazz and straight-ahead pop.

At just 15, she recorded the hit R&B duet "Wallflower," also known as "Roll With Me Henry."


ETTA JAMES: (Singing) Oh, all you people roll with me, Henry. Roll with me. Roll with me. Roll with me, Henry. Roll with me...

MARTIN: James was born to a 14-year-old mother in Los Angeles. She was raised by foster parents who started her singing gospel music at an early age. Eventually, she'd sign with the Chicago label Chess Records, where she scored a big hit with her 1961 rendition of "At Last." Now that's a song you've probably heard at more than a few weddings. But her voice also sparkled on tracks like "A Sunday Kind of Love."


JAMES: (Singing) I want a Sunday kind of love - a love to last past Saturday night.

MARTIN: Etta James will be remembered for her singing. But away from the stage she could be erratic. She battled drug addictions that dogged her career. James discussed her darker moments in her autobiography, "Rage to Survive," which was co-written with David Ritz.

DAVID RITZ: She was wildly creative and wonderfully spontaneous and, you know, uncontrollable. She was an unmanageable kind of person. But she was different. She was different because she had such a sweet little girl in her and such a kind of a lovability about her that made you forget all the times when she wore you out.

MARTIN: Over her career, Etta James amassed six Grammy Awards and she's been enshrined in both the Rock 'n roll Hall of Fame and the Blues Hall of Fame. She is survived by her husband of 42 years, Artis Mills, and her two children. And we will leave you with "Tell Mama."


JAMES: (Singing) Tell Mama all about it. Tell Mama...

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.


JAMES: (Singing) And I'll make everything all right. That girl you had just had no sense. She wasn't worth all the time that you spent. She had another man throw you outdoors...

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