Over her six decade career, few R&B stars received the consistent acclaim as that heaped upon Etta James. James had 20 R&B hits, but despite her vocal talents only belatedly gained the attention of a wider audience. James also lived a hard life – suffering through addiction and bad relationships as well as legal and medical problems.

Born Jamesetta Hawkins to a fourteen year old mother in L.A., James never knew her father. Mostly raised by family and friends, she began attending church with her grandparents and was quickly added to the choir, becoming the featured soloist at twelve. After her foster mother passed, James moved to San Francisco to live with her birth mother. With little supervision, she quickly fell into juvenile delinquency.

At the same time she grew her interest in music, joining the Creolettes who soon changed their name to the Peaches. After a few minor R&B hits, James left to go solo. It took a few years for James to hit her stride.

Etta James had numerous R&B hits in the ’60s, but drug addiction took its toll and James faded in the ’70s. She fell into petty crime to support her habit, and after entering rehab she mostly supported herself touring small clubs. It was longtime fans the Rolling Stones who brought her back to larger audiences by having her open some shows on their 1978 tour.

In 1994 Etta James was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and also won her first Grammy with an album of Billie Holiday covers. This sparked a productive eight years with James releasing one album a year.

In 2010 it was revealed that James had been treated for dependence on painkillers and also suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. In 2011 Etta James released The Dreamer, which proved to be her final album. Etta James died of terminal leukemia in 2012.