Etta James has died at age 73, with her husband and sons by her bedside at a California hospital, her manager says. The legendary R&B chanteuse was reported to be “in pretty bad shape”in recent months; she was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010, andcourt documents revealed she was also suffering from dementia. The six-time Grammy winner will forever be best remembered for “At Last,” writes the AP, which reflects on the magnetic and saucy singer—whom it dubs “one of music’s original bad girls.”
“The bad girls … had the look that I liked,” James wrote in her 1995 autobiography. “I wanted to be rare, I wanted to be noticed, I wanted to be exotic as a Cotton Club chorus girl, and I wanted to be obvious as the most flamboyant hooker on the street. I just wanted to be.” And so a 15-year-old James forged her mother’s signature on a note claiming to be 18 and traveled from San Francisco to LA where she recorded “Roll With Me, Henry.” She spent the late ’50s and ’60s touring with big names like Little Richard and Fats Domino, before falling into a heroin addiction that took her two decades to kick. She eventually returned to the stage, but later struggled with her weight and a painkiller addiction. “At Last” was famously played at Barack Obama’s January 2009 inauguration—though James wasn’t altogether pleased.