Etta James is dead after a long battle with cancer, just a day after the death of Johnny Otis, the man widely credited for discovering James and molding her career. She was 73.
The word “diva” gets thrown around a lot these days. But there are few who actually fit the definition of the term, which is a larger-than-life singer with an attitude. Etta James was a diva who fit the definition of the term. She was an original diva — an O.D., if you will. If you talk to people who’ve been in the music business for a while, there’s a chance you’ll hear a great Etta James story. A friend of mine who’s worked at Jazz Fest for years tells a great one about her bitching him out for there not being enough toilet paper in her trailer. Another one of my favorites, and one that many readers of this site may be aware of, is her jihad against Beyoncé for performing “At Last” at Obama’s inauguration.
“I tell you that woman he had singing for him, singing my song, she gonna get her ass whupped,” James said at the time. “I can’t stand Beyoncé. She had no business singing my song that I been singing forever.”
Etta James had a voice unlike any other and lived a fascinating roller coaster of a life (I can’t wait for the inevitable biopic on her). Embedded above is a great clip of her and Dr. John doing a duet of “I’d Rather Go Blind.” See you on the other side raising hell, mama.