On “Mystery Lady,” Etta James sings songs Billie Holiday made famous, and it is music you can listen to again and again and again. This is also true for “At Last,” Etta’s signature hit which, when sung by others, brings to mind Etta James.
Etta was born Jamesetta Hawkins on January 25, 1938 in Los Angeles to a 14-year-old mother. She never knew her father, but recalled her mother telling her he was the celebrated pool player Minnesota Fats.
Etta began singing at age 5 at St. Paul Baptist Church in Los Angeles. At age 15 she cut her first record. She had an up-and-down career, due in part to changing audience tastes, but mainly to her problems with drugs.
Etta won four Grammy Awards, one for best jazz vocal performance in 1995 for the album “Mystery Lady: Songs of Billie Holiday.” She also won a lifetime-achievement honor in 2003.
Etta died in Riverside, CA on January 20, 2102 at age 73.
Check out “Mystery Lady: Songs of Billie Holiday” on our “Women in Music” playlist.