Blues singer Etta James dies at 73

Fri Jan 20, 2012 5:45pm EST
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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Etta James, the influential 1950s rhythm-and-blues singer best known for her show-stopping hit "At Last," died on Friday from complications of leukemia in a California hospital surrounded by her family. She was 73.

Her death prompted tributes from numerous musicians and artists who were influenced by her singing, from pop star Mariah Carey to Aretha Franklin and legendary rock band The Doors.

James died in her home town of Riverside, California, east of Los Angeles, said her manager and friend of some 30 years, Lupe De Leon. She would have turned 74 on Wednesday.

"She passed away this morning. She was with her husband and her sons," said De Leon.

James was diagnosed with leukemia two years ago and had been in failing health for a number of years. Her live-in doctor said in December she was terminally ill with leukemia. James also suffered from diabetes, kidney problems and dementia and was hospitalized late in 2011 because she was struggling to breathe.

The three time Grammy-award winning R&B singer saw numerous ups-and-downs in her career and personal life. She struggled with obesity and heroin addiction, ran a hot-check scheme and had troubled relationships with men, including some gangsters. Her weight ballooned, and in 2003 she underwent gastric bypass surgery and lost more than 200 pounds.

Yet in the music industry, among fellow R&B artists and rock icons, James' career was legendary. With songs like "The Wallflower" and "Good Rockin' Daddy," the three-time Grammy winner was a key figure in the early days of rock 'n' roll, and her signature song, the 1961 ballad "At Last," proved her mastery of the blues.

Carey, one of dozens of musicians paying tribute on Twitter on Friday, said, "Rest in peace to one of the world's most influential singers Etta James, you will be missed."

Beyonce, who was slammed by James in 2009 for singing "At Last" at the inaugural ball for U.S. President Barack Obama, said on Friday she was fortunate to have met "such a queen."   Continued...