NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – Blues legend Etta James has died.
The 73-year-old had been hospitalized for breathing trouble.
Her manager Lupe De Leon said James had been diagnosed with terminal leukemia.
James was born Jamesetta Hawkins. Her signature hit was the classic favorite “At Last,” though she had numerous hits in the 1950s and ’60s. Other hits included “Trust In Me,” Something’s Got a Hold On Me,” “Sunday Kind of Love” and “All I Could Do Was Cry.”
James was born in 1938 to a 14-year-old mother she rarely saw and a father she never knew. She started singing at a Baptist church in Los Angeles, then joined a girl group. But it was when she started making Blues records that her career took off.
In 1961, “At Last” put Etta James on the map.
James career was nearly derailed by her addiction to drugs. She started experimenting when she landed in Harlem.
“I was trying to be cool,” she told the AP in 1995, explaining what had led her to try heroin.
“I hung out in Harlem and saw Miles Davis and all the jazz cats,” she said. “At one time, my heavy role models were all druggies. Billie Holiday sang so groovy. Is that because she’s on drugs? It was in my mind as a young person. I probably thought I was a young Billie Holiday, doing whatever came with that.”
Rolling Stone magazine ranked James #22 on their list of 100 greatest singers of all time. The 3-time Grammy winner got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2003.
In 2008, James was portrayed by Beyonce Knowles in the movie “Cadillac Records.” The pop star sang “At Last” for the president and first lady during their first dance at the 2009 inaugural festivities.
James knocked Beyonce’s performance, though James’ son attributed the critique to “drug-induced dementia.”
James battled obesity and a heroin addiction that interrupted her career earlier on. Her health declined dramatically in recent years. Complicating matters, her sons and husband argued over managing her $1 million estate and medical care.
“I want for my mother the best care possible. I mean, that’s just it. That’s my mother,” Donto James said.
A judge ruled James’ husband Artis Mills would remain conservator, and $350,000 was allotted for her care. She suffered from dementia, kidney trouble and eventually leukemia.
James died at Riverside Community Hospital with her husband and sons by her side.
“It is a tremendous loss for her fans around the world,” De Leon said. “She’ll be missed. A great American singer. Her music defied category.”