LOS ANGELES — Legendary US blues and soul singer Etta James, best known for her 1960 hit “At Last,” died Friday of complications from leukemia, her manager said. She was 73.
James, who flitted effortlessly from jazz, pop and love ballads to feisty R&B and who plunged into drug addiction before resurrecting her career to win six Grammys, died at a hospital in Riverside, California.
“Her music defied category. I worked with Etta for over 30 years. She was my friend and I will miss her always,” Lupe De Leon said in a statement, calling the soulful singer “a true original who could sing it all.”
“Cause of death was complications from leukemia. Her husband Artis Mills and sons Donto James and Sametto James were by her side. This is a tremendous loss for the family, her friends and her fans around the world,” he added.
In tribute to the singer flowers were to be placed on her star on the storied Hollywood Walk of Fame, the stretch of sidewalk in the tourist heart of Hollywood dedicated to stars past and present.
James, who retired from stage appearances in 2009, has lived in Riverside, east of Los Angeles, for the last two decades. She was diagnosed with cancer two years ago.
Her $1 million estate has been the subject of a legal battle between son Donto James and her husband Artis Mills, who is not his father.
Mills filed a suit last year seeking to have access to his wife’s savings account. Donto James resisted the claim on the grounds that his mother gave him him power-of-attorney over her affairs.
A local judge ordered in December that $350,000 be used exclusively for her medical care.
Born Jamesetta Hawkins, James has won four Grammys and 17 Blues Music Awards. She was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 and was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2003.
She is also known for her soulful rendition of such songs as “I’d Rather Go Blind” and “All I Could Do Was Cry.”
“At Last” was sung by R&B diva Beyonce when she serenaded new US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for their first dance on inauguration night in January 2009.
James infamously launched an attack on Beyonce shortly after the younger singer — who played James in the 2008 movie “Cadillac” — sang “At Last” for the Obamas at their January 2009 inauguration.
During a live show the following month, the then 71-year-old told the audience that she “can’t stand Beyonce” and threatened that she would “get her ass whipped” — and also mocked the president himself.
“You guys know your president right? You know, the one with the big ears. Yeah, wait a minute, he ain’t my president, he might be yours,” she told a crowd in Seattle.
“I tell you that woman he had singing for him, singing my song, she gonna get her ass whipped. The great Beyonce. Now like I said, she ain’t mine. I can’t stand Beyonce!
“She had no business up there singing. Singing on a big ole, big ole president day and going be singing my song that I’ve been singing forever.”
Copyright © 2012 AFP. All rights reserved.
Photo by Louis Ramirez (originally posted to Flickr as ETTA JAMES) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons