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Etta James

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Etta James (1938-2012) was a U.S. blues, soul, R&B, rock & roll, and jazz singer and songwriter. She is the winner of four Grammies, seventeen Blues Music Awards, and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (in 1993), the Blues Hall of Fame (in 2001), and the Grammy Hall of Fame (in both 1999 and 2008).

James was born Jamesetta Hawkins in Los Angeles, California, on 25th January 1938, to an unmarried fourteen-year-old mother, Dorothy Hawkins. According to Etta, her mother claimed that her father was the white Rudolph “Minnesota Fats” Wanderone, and that they received financial support from him on the condition that they keep his paternity a secret. This seems unlikely, though it has not been definitively disproved. Etta was born in Los Angeles in 1938. At the time, Wanderone was known to be managing a pool hall in Washington, D.C. and had not yet become known to be the cross-country traveller he later became.

She received her first professional vocal training at five years old from James Earle Hines, musical director of the Echoes of Eden choir at St Paul Baptist Church in Los Angeles. Her family moved to San Francisco in 1950, and she teamed up with two other girls to form a doo-wop singing group. When the girls were fourteen, band leader Johnny Otis had them audition. They sang an answer to Hank Ballard’s “Work with Me, Annie” called “Roll Wwth Me Henry”. Otis particularly liked the song, and against her mother’s wishes, James and the trio went to Los Angeles to record the song in 1954.

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