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Etta James is a Grammy Award-winning singer known for hit songs like "I'd Rather Go Blind" and "At Last."
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With suggestive stage antics and a sassy attitude, James continued to perform and record well into the 1990s. Always soulful, her extraordinary voice was showcased to great effect on her recent private releases, including Blue Gardenia, which rose to the top of the Billboard jazz chart. In 2003, James underwent gastric bypass surgery and lost over 200 pounds. The dramatic weight loss had an impact on her voice, as she told Ebony magazine that year. "I can sing lower, higher and louder,
" James explained.
That same year, Etta James released Let's Roll, which won the Grammy Award for best contemporary blues album. Her sons, Donto and Sametto James, served as producers on the recording, along with Josh Sklair. This team regrouped for her next effort, Blues to the Bone (2004), which brought James her third Grammy Award—this time for best traditional blues album.
In 2006, James released the album All the Way, which featured cover versions of songs by Prince, Marvin Gaye and James Brown. She participated in a tribute album the following year for jazz great Ella Fitzgerald, called We Love Ella.
The story of the early days of Chess Records was brought to the big screen as Cadillac Records in 2008, with singer Beyoncè Knowles playing Etta James in the film. Beyoncè also recorded her own version of James's signature song, "At Last" for the soundtrack.
While James publicly supported the film, she was reportedly miffed when Beyoncè sang the song at President Barack Obama's inaugural ball in January 2009. James allegedly told concert-goers in Seattle in February that Beyoncè "had no business ... singing my song that I been singing forever." Despite some media attention over her comments, James was unfazed by the incident, and pressed on with her busy performing schedule.
As she entered her 70s, Etta James began struggling with health issues. She was hospitalized in 2010 for a blood infection, along with other ailments. It was later revealed that the legendary singer suffered from dementia, and was receiving treatment for leukemia. Her medical problems came to light in court papers filed by her husband, Artis Mills. Mills sought to gain control over $1 million of James's money, but he was challenged by James's two sons, Donto and Sametto. The two parties later worked out an agreement.
James released her latest studio album, The Dreamer, in November 2011, which received warm reviews. A few weeks later, James's doctor announced that the singer was terminally ill. "She's in the final stages of leukemia. She has also been diagnosed with dementia and Hepatitis C," Dr. Elaine James (not related to the singer) told a local newspaper. James's sons also acknowledged that Etta's health was declining and was receiving care at her Riverside, California, home.
Etta James died at her home in Riverside, California, on January 20, 2012. Today, she continues to be is considered one of music's most dynamic singers.
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